Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibility'Very serious privacy invasion': ACLU analyst on Green Bay's audio surveillance | WLUK
Close Alert

'Very serious privacy invasion': ACLU analyst on Green Bay's audio surveillance

A microphone on the ceiling in the first floor hallway of Green Bay's city hall. (Photo credit: WLUK)
A microphone on the ceiling in the first floor hallway of Green Bay's city hall. (Photo credit: WLUK)
Facebook Share IconTwitter Share IconEmail Share Icon
Comment bubble

UPDATE: The city issued a statement Friday standing by its installation of the microphones.


GREEN BAY, Wis. (WLUK) -- A senior official with the American Civil Liberties Union tells FOX 11 audio surveillance at Green Bay's city hall is unlike anything he's heard of before.

“This is the first sort of city hall or political location that I've heard doing something like this,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst for the ACLU in Washington D.C., who has been with the nonprofit since five weeks before 9/11.

City officials say microphones were put on the hallway ceilings on the first and second levels, outside the city clerk’s office, the city council chambers, and the mayor’s office within the past two years due to threatening interactions involving members of the public and staff.

“I think it's pretty customary to have the kind of surveillance systems that we have here,” Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich told FOX 11 on Tuesday.

“We have millions of video surveillance cameras all around this country and almost none of them have microphones on them and it's because wiretapping laws, federal and state wiretapping laws, make it very legally difficult to record audio conversations in public,” said Stanley.

There are no signs at city hall warning people of the audio recording devices. Some city council members were surprised and upset when they first learned about the devices during Tuesday’s city council meeting.

“To have a recording device that people might not be aware of, at such a location, is a serious threat to privacy and completely unjustified,” said Stanley.

State law requires one party in a private conversation must consent to the communication being recorded.

On Tuesday, Green Bay's city attorney and police chief said there is no reasonable expectation for privacy in a public place like the hallways of city hall.

“I couldn't believe it, I still can't,” said State Sen. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere.

Senator Jacque had the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Council look at the issue back in October. Jacque says he heard about potential audio recording at Green Bay's city hall back then, but more recently received confirmation through open records requests.

A memo from the council, updated this week, states the legality of recording conversations in government buildings, under state law, depends on whether any party in the conversation consents to the recording and whether the parties have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The memo states the factors for reasonable expectation of privacy are volume of statements, proximity of individuals to the speaker, potential for the communication to be reported, actions taken by speaker to ensure privacy, need to employ technological enhancements to hear the speaker, and place or location where statements are made.

“I think the memo, the updated memo, that I provided has pretty clear discussion of it,” said Jacque, who says he has contacted Brown County's district attorney about the situation. “There is certainly the state statute that is cited. At the very least you'd think that would compel some sort of a pause on the recording.”

FOX 11 forwarded the legal memo to Green Bay City Attorney Joanne Bungert with a list of questions. Bungert replied, “We’ve received your request and understand the nature and timelessness of your inquiry, however we are unable to meet today’s deadline. We will be sure to address your inquiry and provide additional information in the near future.”

“I think this is something the lawyers are going to have to hash out,” said Ald. Bill Galvin.

Galvin says he has a lot of unanswered questions but recognizes there have been situations at city hall where it might be beneficial to have audio recordings. He says he wants to hear from city officials before jumping to any conclusion.

“If someone is playing fast and loose with the rules, they're going to be held accountable for it,” said Galvin.

Comment bubble

Ald. Chris Wery has submitted a request for a surveillance policy to be discussed, which is tentatively scheduled for a parks committee meeting March 1st.

Loading ...