State legislators around the country are pushing to make it much harder for the public to obtain police officer body camera videos, undermining their promise as a tool people can use to hold law enforcement accountable.

Lawmakers in at least 15 states have introduced bills to exempt video recordings of police encounters with citizens from state public records laws, or to limit what can be made public.

Their stated motive: preserving the privacy of people being videotaped, and saving considerable time and money that would need to be spent on public information requests as the technology quickly becomes widely used.

Advocates for open government and civil rights are alarmed. A bill approved by Arizona's Senate this month is among the most hostile to public access.

It would strip the public's ability to review "the most reliable, contemporaneous records" of police conduct, Phoenix lawyer David Bodney complained.

"Why would we adopt an enhanced form of documentation of law enforcement activity, only to forbid public inspection of those documents? It's nonsensical," said Bodney, who is lobbying against the bill on behalf of The Arizona Republic newspaper and a local NBC affiliate.

The bill declares that body camera recordings are not public records, and as such can be released only if the public interest "outweighs the interests of privacy or confidentiality or the best interests of the state."

That wording would make getting a court order very difficult, Bodney said.

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