SHARECOMMENTMORE

KUSA - The debate may sound familiar: some lawmakers are worried that the government is building huge databases that could reveal what you've been up to in your private life.

Only, this isn't the NSA. This story is about government cameras right down the street from you.

The concern is over all of the cameras placed in public places by state and local officials.

There are plenty in Colorado. They catch red light runners, monitor traffic, and keep an eye on hot spots for crime, but right now there are no limits on how long images from government cameras can be saved.

"There's no reason to go back and dig through the private lives of the citizens of Colorado without good cause," state Rep. Polly Lawrence (R-Roxborough Park) said.

Lawrence wants the images destroyed after a year so they can't be used forever as a form of passive surveillance.

Passive surveillance can come from any government camera, such as those you might walk by on the street, or a more specifically targeted system like license plate readers mounted on some police cars.

Those systems capture your plates, location, time, and a picture of your car, says Lakewood police Chief Kevin Paletta.

"That was the key break in the case that set us on to Marc O'Leary," Paletta said.

Marc O'Leary got a 327-year sentence for a series of carefully planned rapes around the Front Range.

Lakewood police found this serial rapist because his truck appeared out of place in 5-month-old records from their license plate scanner.

The connection came from the photo taken along with his license plate info. Officers saw something unique.

"It had an aftermarket mirror on it," Paletta said. "That didn't match the pickup truck."

A parking lot surveillance camera near another rape scene in Golden caught the same pickup, which was the break police needed to solve the case.

But under Lawrence's bill, HB 1152, the Lakewood data might have been erased if it had been a bit older.

The current draft of the bill sets a 6-month limit to keep such data and images, though Lawrence says she plans to amend the limit to 12 months.

It's the classic debate: privacy versus safety.

Lawrence doesn't have a specific case of abuse of the cameras to point to.

She ran her bill because something about a big database seems creepy.

"I think the impetus was really the NSA surveillance and just the fact that big brother is coming into the state a little bit more than I had thought it had," Lawrence said.

Police chiefs point out a key difference: unlike NSA monitoring of private phone calls and email, the cameras at issue in this debate are placed out in public.

"We are recording data in an area where people don't expect a high level of privacy," Paletta said. "We're not using this technology to go on a fishing expedition. We're using the technology in a directed way, to confirm or to disprove, what may have happened in a certain place and time."

A hearing on this bill hasn't been set yet. The two sides are negotiating to see if there's a time limit for storing the information they can all live with.

Lawrence's bill does make exceptions for data that police know is evidence in a pending case, but police say sometimes they won't know something is evidence until long after a crime takes place.

SHARECOMMENTMORE