Baltimore Transit Officials Won't Release Footage Of Freddie Gray Protests Because Everything Is Always About 'Terrorism'
from the an-excuse-with-a-universal-adapter dept
The excuse that worked so well for so long -- "because terrorism" -- seems to have lost its luster. Despite having a locked iPhone tied to a mass shooting with terrorist overtones, the FBI was unable to budge the needle on encryption backdoors or magical "lawful access" crypto keys.
However, that doesn't mean any number of government entities aren't willing to use the ever present "threat" of terrorism as fuel for their various civil liberties-endangering bonfires. Or that they won't use it as a profoundly cheap excuse to withhold information from the American public -- like the Indiana State Police's refusal to turn over Stingray docs because doing so might allow terrorists to plan attacks on cherished annual state events like the Mule Day Parade.
The Maryland Transit Authority has been ducking a Public Information Act (PIA) request from the Baltimore Sun for nearly a year at this point. The paper asked for surveillance footage from the Mondawin Metro station, captured in April of last year as police shut down mass transit in anticipation of protests following the death of Freddie Gray in the back of Baltimore PD van.
The MTA's first refusal utilized another very popular law enforcement excuse.
In denying the Sun's first PIA request last year, the MTA said that the office of Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby had asked it not to release the footage because it was still being used in criminal investigations.
The Sun took this in stride and issued another request almost a year later.
The Sun sent the MTA another PIA request for the footage last month, noting that there is a statute of limitations of one year for misdemeanor charges, and that it had been a year since the incident in question — limiting the number of pending investigations there could be.
If some footage remained relevant to open investigations, The Sun said, that footage could be redacted and the rest made available.
The MTA's bluff had been called but it still had no interest in turning over the requested footage. So, it reached for the bluff that can never be called -- because it is existential, wholly subjective, and without an expiration date.
When the MTA responded last week, it made no mention of pending investigations in the state's attorney's office. It said instead that the footage could not be released because of Homeland Security concerns.
If you thought that was the end of the stupidity, you're mistaken. The Sun asked for clarification -- did this mean the MTA would never release footage from its security cameras? The MTA clarified with a bullshit-laden buck pass:
The MTA responded Friday, explaining that The Sun would have to ask the federal Transportation Security Administration for written permission to review any of the footage from the cameras, because they were funded through Homeland Security grants.
The MTA controls the cameras. It acquired them with grant money, but they are still the sole property of the MTA. The TSA is a completely unconnected third party. The DHS hands out grant money, not the TSA. And even if the TSA was somehow connected because of the grant, the footage requested only involved local law enforcement.
But it gets even worse. Even if the Sun were able to talk the TSA into granting permission (that really isn't its to grant) for the release of the requested footage, the MTA would still refuse to hand it over.
[I]f The Sun were to get that permission, it said, the MTA still would deny the footage based on its belief that the footage "would reveal the facility's safety and support systems, surveillance techniques, and security systems and technologies," as well as "jeopardize the security of the facility; facilitate the planning of a terrorist attack; and endanger the life or physical safety of the public."
This is the problem with public records laws. The government still maintains far too much control. Officials may occasionally talk big about "presumption of transparency," but when push comes to shove, its agencies like these doing all the pushing and shoving -- and routinely delivering the government equivalent of the playground rebuttal: "Make me."