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City officials emphasize anonymity, privacy in surveillance camera database

Those registering their private information about home surveillance cameras in the city needn’t fear the data will get into the wrong hands, public safety committee members reassured, but under some circumstances footage can be subpoenaed.

A new citywide camera registry is being built as a boost to security across the town, according to discussion Tuesday at City Council’s public safety committee.

The registration is occurring as investigators with state Attorney General Josh Shapiro have charged a former city police officer with alleged misuse a law enforcement and Department of Justice J-NET system to access private and personal information on 28 women.

The camera registration is on Crime Watch, a new data base and interactive site.

“Police can’t access the cameras without permission,” said Christopher Cooley, city information technology coordinator.

Should the police need specific footage from cameras they can subpoena it, according to a section of the Police and Evidence Act.

Police, however, can’t force owners to position cameras and they can’t force owners to give them access whenever they want to review them.

However, the camera registration information is kept in a data base and police officers know about it if needed, Cooley said.

Registration includes information such as name of camera owner, address, number of cameras and an area for comments.

“They are not going to log into the system,” Cooley said.

Whenever police need it, they should give the owner information as to why they are requesting access, including a crime reference number.

The crime may not have occurred on the camera owner’s property.

For example, it might be that someone passed through a yard before or after committing a crime elsewhere.

If owners tell officers no, the police do have the right and the ability to follow certain channels in order to encourage the owner to surrender the footage, such as obtaining a search warrant, according to the cited law.

Cooley noted the police will only ever ask for it in order to help solve crimes.

The registration and Crime Watch site is accessible at williamsportpd.org.

In response, Councilwoman Bonnie Katz, committee chairwoman, said while privacy is paramount so is covering the city with additional eyes to prevent and assist law enforcement with crime.

“It is anonymous,” Councilman Adam Yoder said, adding he registered his cameras on the site. “Nobody but police know the information.”

“Police have to ask you before using them, which is another mechanism to maintain confidentiality,” he added.

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