On June 11, 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire filed a lawsuit challenging planned surveillance cameras in downtown Manchester. The cameras, which would capture live video of traffic on Elm Street, are illegal because they violate a state privacy law that specifically disallows cameras that capture a motorists’ identifying information, such as their face or license plate.
The current installation plan includes three permanent surveillance cameras in the area of City Hall that will look north and south on Elm Street, with a live feed transmitted to the Manchester Police Department’s dispatch office. The images captured would be recorded and stored for fourteen days. Although the intent may not be to monitor traffic, the high quality of the cameras allow users to zoom in and out, and would inevitably capture faces and license plates.
The surveillance cameras proposed by the City of Manchester are troubling: driving down Elm Street shouldn’t include recording video of your face, license plate, and passengers. New Hampshire is a state that staunchly defends its right to privacy, and this plan is a direct violation of that by needlessly capturing the information of thousands of Granite Staters simply going about their business.
On August 12, 2019, the Court denied Petitioners' Motion for Preliminary Injunction. However, the Court explained that the City will be committing a crime when its planned surveillance cameras inevitably capture motorists’ identifying information. The Court noted: “[T]he Court agrees with petitioners that the simple act of a government employee recognizing a vehicle or its occupants, without taking additional steps such as running a license plate through dispatch, constitutes a violation of the statute as written. The Court further agrees that it is virtually inevitable that in reviewing the footage generated by the cameras, a government actor will, given enough time, recognize someone in a car on Elm Street even if by accident”—an act which is a crime under the statute. Petitioners subsequently withdrew their lawsuit.