Texas attorney general takes up fight for Web cam records

TEXAS — A University of Texas student’s curiosity has caused the state attorney general’s office to sue itself.

On Aug. 4, the University of Texas at Austin filed a lawsuit to block an order from the state attorney general to release records regarding Web cameras in university classrooms. As the state’s legal representative, the attorney general’s office will litigate both sides of the case.

UT sophomore Mark Miller filed an information request on April 13 for information on the Web cameras monitoring his classroom. School officials told Miller they would ask Attorney General Greg Abbott to determine if the records are subject to public disclosure. But because the university missed a court filing date, the attorney general ordered the release of the information in July, according to court documents.

Miller’s interest began after he noticed the Web cameras in his classrooms. After his questions to school faculty went unanswered, he submitted an information request to school officials for any available information about the cameras.

The Web cameras monitor classroom equipment and large lecture halls, according to The Daily Texan, the student newspaper. According to a UT facilities official, Web cameras broadcast information and campus events over the Internet, and do not perform the job of surveillance cameras. The UT Police Department uses surveillance cameras for security purposes, the official said. The facilities department could not comment on the number of Web cameras and surveillance cameras on campus.

Miller said his curiosity about the Web cameras was amplified when UT faculty did not seem to know what purpose the cameras served.

“They obviously have something to hide,” Miller said. Miller is not named as a plaintiff in the suit, although his request caused the chain of events.

Since the Web cameras allegedly recorded a conversation between UT officials regarding campus surveillance cameras, which are part of separate ongoing litigation, UT argues that releasing the records would violate attorney-client privilege, according to court documents.

According to Tom Kelley, a spokesman for the attorney general, the Web camera case has been eclipsed by another lawsuit between the school and the student newspaper, which sued the university in 2002 for access to records involving surveillance cameras on campus. The outcome of The Daily Texan‘s suit could determine a ruling in the Web camera case, Kelley said.

Kelley said the current situation, which forces the attorney general’s office to argue both sides of the case, is not unusual. The case will be argued by two different departments within the attorney general’s office, Kelley said.

School officials declined to comment. No trial date has been set for the case.

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