Texas university finally releases documents on security cameras

TEXAS — Officials at the University of Texas at Austinhave fulfilled part of the student newspaper’s open-records request fordocuments related to campus security cameras after a yearlong, continuinglegal battle that spilled over into the Texas Legislature.Jonathan York,a reporter for The Daily Texan, filed the request with the university inOctober 2002. York asked for documents related to security camera locations,technical specifications, operating hours as well as financial information aboutthe purchase of the cameras. The university handed over the financialdocuments near the beginning of February. York used the documents to write anarticle that ran in The Daily Texan on Feb. 27, revealing that theuniversity has spent between $300,000 and $400,000 on security cameras overthe past seven years.”[University officials] gave me whatfulfilled that last category of my request because they did not consider itdamaging,” York said.The Daily Texan‘s request becameembroiled in litigation after university officials denied disclosure of anyinformation about the cameras, citing the federal USA Patriot Act and nationalsecurity concerns, York said. The state attorney general issued anopinion in newspaper’s favor, saying that the cameras were not part of anational security plan and documents related to them should be turned over tothe paper under Texas’ Public Information Act. The opinion led theuniversity to sue the attorney general. After a trial court ruled in theattorney general’s favor, the university appealed the decision to a stateappellate court. That court remanded the case back to the trial court forfurther proceedings.Meanwhile, in June 2003 the state passed House Bill9, a measure that forbids disclosure of the technical specifications, operating proceduresand locations of security cameras operated by all state agencies, including publicuniversities. However, the law does allow for financial information to bereleased, said Lee Smith, associate vice president for legal affairs atUT.”The university reviewed the request and actually carved outthat information which fits within the scope of information the Legislature hasindicated should be released in all cases and released it,” Smithsaid.But The Daily Texan is skeptical about the provisions of thelaw, which took effect Sept. 1, 2003. York said he is examining the law todetermine what is prohibited from disclosure since the wording of thelegislation is vague.”They changed the law so we don’t haveaccess to that [information] anymore — or I guess we never reallydid,” said Wes Ferguson, The Daily Texan‘s managing editor,who said he is frustrated by the apparent amount of influence the university hasover the Legislature. Ferguson said the law resulting from House Bill 9 seems tobe aimed directly at The Daily Texan‘s request.According toofficials, though, the university is just following the law.”Theonly fair reading is that people want to be deliberate about this because no onewants to make mistakes,” Smith said.The university’s caseagainst the attorney general remains at the state trial court, but both partiesare considering a settlement, Smith said.

View The Daily Texan‘s article on UT security cameras here.
Read previous coverage