Back in 2016 the New Hampshire legislature, for the first time, approved the use of license plate readers by state or local police or county sheriffs. But even that allowance was limited. They had to register with the AG, and the Attorney General had unfettered authority to audit their use to ensure compliance with the law.
Nowhere in the new provision were redlight, speed cameras, or any other public surveillance tools approved.
I asked Carla Gericke, one of the petitioners in the suit, for comment on Manchester’s decision to proceed with surveillance devices downtown.
NH has a unique history of protecting the privacy of its citizens against government intrusion. Last year, 81% of us voted to affirm this sentiment, making it clear we want less, not more government intrusion in our every day lives. Under current law [RSA 236:130], these surveillance cameras are clearly illegal, and if MPD wants to proceed with their Big Bad Brother plans, they’re going to have to go back to the legislature and change the law first.
Gericke is referring to the constitutional amendment passed last year protecting citizens privacy rights. An amendment with issues of its own. But there’s very little wiggle room in the statute concerning public surveillance by state or local governments in the granite state — a point made in the petition for declaratory judgment.
RSA 236:130 prohibits the use of surveillance cameras that will capture motorists’ identifying information. Under RSA 236:130, a government entity in New Hampshire, with some exceptions not applicable here, cannot “engage in surveillance on any public ways of the state or its political subdivisions.”
The law is clear. Manchester’s mayor and board of Alderman presumably sought an opinion from city lawyers. Though perhaps not. Had they done so we’d like to think they learned, you can’t do this. Which begs the question(s), was there no ask because they wanted to get away with it or was there an answer they didn’t like, and the board moved forward regardless?
Privacy Not Exactly a Priority
Mayor Craig’s stewardship has had its share of challenges when it comes to what is and isn’t privacy. Last year a (now former) Democrat member of the Board of School Committee violated someone’s privacy, as part of a planned political hit, when they leaked a confidential legal letter.
Mayor Craig and the Democrat majority board was happy to play along until it all fell apart. We have no reason to believe that illegal surveillance of Manchester residents wouldn’t be an object of the same abuses even if the law allowed public surveillance by the city, which it does not.
The court should issue an immediate and permanent injunction (as requested by petitioners) barring such surveillance.