The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire is suing the city of Manchester over its plan to install surveillance cameras downtown, alleging they would violate state privacy laws.
In April, police told the city they were hoping to install three cameras along Elm Street in summer 2019 to address complaints by residents and businesses about crime, panhandling, and loitering.
According to the ACLU-NH, the cameras would stream footage to the police station. While not intended to monitor traffic, Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the ACLU-NH, says the cameras would capture motorists' identifying information, including their faces and license plates.
This is prohibited by a law passed in 2006 designed to protect citizens in an era of growing privacy concerns.
“This statute was put in place specifically to avoid New Hampshire becoming like New York City or London, where there are surveillance cameras in every corner,” Bissonnette says. “The legislator said we don't want to be like those jurisdictions.”
Bissonette says that if the Manchester aldermen and police disagree with the law, “They need to go to the legislature and explain that the statue should be changed or that they should be given an exemption. That should be done through the democratic process, but what can't happen is for a city to just put up the cameras.”
Bissonette says the lawsuit is the first privacy case in New Hampshire to invoke the 2006 law.
Petitioners include former Republican representative Neil Kurk, of Weare, who sponsored the 2006 law, and Carla Gericke, a member of the Free State Project and resident of Manchester.
The city of Manchester declined to comment for this story. A Manchester City Police spokeswoman says the cameras are not yet installled but the city will defend its policy to install them.