Category Archives: Records Management

Open Source Tools

To round out this year’s look at open source tools, I want to provide an overview that can serve as a primer to the Hangout we intend to host early in 2017.  Open source software is “software with source code that anyone can inspect, modify, and enhance.”  Opensource.com goes on to provide a more expansive explanation of the purpose of open source software:

“Open source projects, products, or initiatives embrace and celebrate principles of open exchange, collaborative participation, rapid prototyping, transparency, meritocracy, and community-oriented development.”

As I noted in previous posts, NARA published a report in 2015 entitled “Open Source Tools for Records Management.”  This report points to the generally free cost of open source software and the “very robust user and developer communities that are actively working to report bugs and improve the tools” as advantages of its use.  However, this report also acknowledges (1) care must be taken to guarantee adequate security when deploying open source software and (2) customization may be required — which will probably also necessitate time and IT know-how.

Open source software differs from closed source, or proprietary, software because its code is open to all to see and change.  Although open source software is often times provided free of charge, it is not the same as freeware, which may be closed source software.  Notable open source technologies include the Linux operating system and the Apache web server application.  The Linux OS is a good example of the practice where the software is open source but the support comes with a price — such as that provided by Red Hat.  Opensource.com lists a number of reasons why developers prefer open source software:

  • control over what the software does
  • training by being able to see the source code
  • greater security due to quicker updates to address vulnerabilities
  • stability even after the original creators discontinue their work on the software

In August 2016, Wired released an article entitled “Open Source Won.  So Now What?”  This article points to the first official federal source code policy, which requires government agencies to release at least 20% of any new code as open source software.  It also acknowledges that open source development can be challenging due to lack of funding and because it’s hard to break into the field, which is increasingly being dominated by big companies.

If you’re interested in open source software, stay tuned for more blog posts and our Hangout in 2017.

Legislating the Creation, Access, and (not) the Retention of Officer-Worn Body Camera Records

As more and more law enforcement incidents are captured on police officer-worn body and dashboard cameras, states are obliged to consider legislation that governs the creation, retention, and public access of such records. Regulations, where they do exist, often lack uniformity between municipalities, cities, and states, as illustrated by the Brennan Center’s guide detailing police body camera retention policies across the U.S.

Awareness of such regulations, and navigating their inconsistencies, is an important part of how records managers execute their positions. What happens when retention and preservation provisions are absent from legislation governing the creation and access of such police records?

The Pennsylvania General Assembly is currently considering a bill that would legislate law enforcement use of body-worn cameras, and more importantly, public access to such records. Approved by the PA Senate (currently pending a vote in the House) on October 19, Senate Bill 976 – an expansion of Pennsylvania’s current Wiretap Act – would essentially do two things.

First, the bill would increase areas where police officers are permitted to use body cameras, such as within private homes and in public spaces. Under the bill, officers would not be required to directly inform individuals they were potentially being recorded. Second, the bill would place a considerable burden on those attempting to access these records.

SB976 stipulates that within 14 days of the incident a written request be submitted that includes, in “particularity”, the date, time, and location of the incident. Each individual in the footage must be identified by the requester, or at the least, described. If a request is denied – grounds for dismissal include lack of “sufficient particularity” –  an appeal must be filed in a PA Court of Common Pleas within 14 days of the denial, a $250 filing fee will be applied, the written request must be resubmitted, and finally “if the requested audio or video recording was made inside a structure, [identify] the owner and occupant of the structure.”

The amendment seems to contradict itself in that it specifically states that “an audio or video recording by a law enforcement officer shall not be subject to production under the act of February 14, 2008 (p.l.6, no.3), known as the right-to-know law” (Section 6702) while stipulating that that a court may grant release if a “preponderance of evidence” are met, including that “disclosure of the audio or video recording would be permissible under the right-to-know law.”

Pennsylvania civics and policy aside, you may be asking where records management fits into all this? While legislating officer-worn body camera use and record access, the bill does nothing to address appropriate retention periods and preservation methods law enforcement entities could be required to employ uniformly across the state. The bill actually removes language concerning retention periods of certain recorded communications. Primary sponsor Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, has acknowledged that provisions governing how long footage and accompanying data must be retained before it’s erased, as well as when a body-worn camera is turned on or off, are not considered in the bill.

The intent of the SB976 may be noble (“body cameras have a civilizing effect on both the officers and members of the public”), and there is no doubt that balancing public transparency, individual privacy, and the integrity of police investigations presents public policy and records management challenges alike. However, constraints to access and record keeping oversights may only serve to distance the citizenry from law enforcement and public officials, rather than fostering the transparency and trust the bills seeks to instill.

As states continue to consider legislation governing the use and access of police officer-worn body and dashboard camera records, records mangers should be engaged in this dialogue. If creation and access to such record can be legislated to serve the public interest, so too can record keeping policies. Records mangers must continue to be advocates for clear and consistent retention and preservation provisions that benefit the public good, in Pennsylvania and across the nation.