In a surprising opinion issued on January 30, 2015, which promises to have a wide-reaching effect, the Fifth District Court of Appeal overturned a declaratory judgment entered in favor of WKMG-TV Local 6, and determined that surveillance footage is exempt from inspection under Florida’s Public Records Act, Chapter 119, Florida Statutes.
The controversy began when WKMG requested access to surveillance footage taken from buses operated by the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority (“LYNX”). Relying upon a narrow exception articulated in sections 119.071(3)(a) and 281.301, Florida Statutes, LYNX argued that the footage from its buses is exempt from inspection because the footage constitutes “records, information, photographs, audio and visual presentations . . . relating directly to the physical security of the facility or revealing security systems,” which are confidential and exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Act.
The trial court ruled in favor of WKMG holding that the footage did not fall within the statutory exemption because the video did not reveal information concerning the “security system plan,” nor did the footage relate directly to or reveal LYNX’s security system. Moreover, to the extent that the footage revealed or related to the existence of a security system, which is open and notoriously disclosed on every bus, and LYNX’s security concerns were de minimus and did not overcome the strong public policy in favor of access to public records.
The Fifth District, relying on what it deemed the “plain language” of the statute, reversed the trial court. “We agree with LYNX that the video footage captured by the bus camera directly relates to and reveals information about a security system.” While WKMG argued that the bus footage revealed nothing about the security system itself, the appellate court disagreed. “The videos, which are records, reveal the capabilities—and as a corollary, the vulnerabilities—of the current system.” Declining to analyze the legislative history, the court determined that the footage clearly fell within the plain language of the statutory exemption, and held that security footage is not subject to inspection under the Public Records Act.
In light of the media’s interest in obtaining this kind of footage, this is likely not the last we will hear on this issue. Do you think the appellate court got it right? Leave a comment and let us know.