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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Texas Guv Mansion Video: Public Record or Security Secret?

The Texas Department of Public Safety, citing protection of public property from terrorism, is trying to keep secret the video surveillance tapes of the Governor's Mansion the day it burned.

The DPS wrote Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott last week asking for a ruling on whether the tapes must be released to The Associated Press. The AP requested the video the day of the fire using the Texas Public Information Act.

At least three other news organizations also asked for copies of the surveillance tapes shortly after fire severely damaged the 152-year-old mansion the morning of June 8.

DPS contends the tapes are exempt from disclosure because state homeland security laws allow information to be kept confidential if it "relates to the specifications, operating procedures, or location of a security system used to protect public or private property from an act of terrorism or related criminal activity."

Disclosure of the video would "reveal the clarity, range, angle, zoom capabilities, panning capabilities and fields of view of those cameras, as well as their ability to record in little or no light, whether the cameras have infrared or thermal imaging capability, and whether the cameras record in color or black and white," Lopez wrote.

"This information would allow a terrorist or related criminal to discern whether and exactly when a person can be detected and recognized in the areas monitored by the cameras in question," the letter stated.

Releasing the video would reveal whether cameras are real or "dummies;" whether they are constantly running or are motion activated; and for how long videotapes are preserved, the agency contends.

Additionally, DPS said it opposes releasing the video because it could interfere with the ongoing criminal investigation...

In the past, Abbott's office has ruled DPS video surveillance tapes from hallways behind the Texas House of Representatives in the Capitol should be available to the public. The DPS is fighting in court to keep House hallway video from the Texas Observer, a news magazine that made an open records request for videotape recorded in May 2005 when legislators debated private school vouchers.

In the Governor's Mansion video, someone can be seen igniting an object and throwing it onto the porch of the building, fire investigators have already revealed. Investigators say the suspect was wearing a ball cap, a dark shirt, work-type gloves and blue jeans or cargo-style pants.

Only 13 of 20 security cameras on the mansion grounds were working when the fire broke out, and a motion sensor system wasn't working properly, a state official has said.

More here.

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