Iowa legislature approves bill banning public bathroom video surveillance

Bathroom photo (WQAD photo)

DES MOINES — A bill that would block government entities from putting up surveillance cameras inside the bathrooms of public buildings has passed both the Iowa House and Senate and is expected to be signed by Gov. Terry Branstad.

The ACLU of Iowa had been pushing for the bill after complaints from an Iowa City woman who noticed that a camera was focused on the sink area inside the Iowa City Public Library. When the ACLU asked to see footage from that and other cameras inside bathroom libraries – which it is entitled to because surveillance taken in public buildings is legally considered a public record – they noted it revealed people in various states of undress.

“These children and adults were obviously not aware that they were being videotaped and that the footage was
public record,” the ACLU noted in a media release Wednesday. “Because the footage is being collected by a government entity, it is public record for anyone to request and view.”

In January, the Iowa City Public Library director told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that the bathroom cameras were necessary for public safety and to prevent theft and vandalism. 

The bill heading to the governor’s desk applies to public libraries, public schools and other government offices open to the public. The ACLU says it also prevents video and audio surveillance of other specified private areas of state and local government buildings, including a toilet, bath or shower facility, locker room, diaper changing area, or other space where a person
has an expectation of privacy.

“After years of pushing the library to take down the cameras from inside the public bathroom, we are relieved that lawmakers have acted to finally require the library board to remove them,” said Rita Bettis, legal director of the Iowa ACLU. “We are very thankful to our client for being willing to stand up for her own privacy rights and the rights of other library patrons. We’re also glad that the Iowa Legislature realized that this was a wider problem and intervened to protect Iowans from this type of bizarre and invasive surveillance in private spaces.”