By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports
There are fourteen cameras controlled by Idaho In Session at the capitol. There are multiple cameras controlled by Allied Barton Security — how many, they wouldn’t say. There is also a camera in the House Assistant Majority Leader’s office. That camera is controlled by Rep. Brent Crane.
The camera records Crane’s office and all the people who enter it. Crane placed the camera on a bookshelf, where it records on a loop, writing over the previous information as it records more. The information is available for only a short time unless it is downloaded and archived. The only person able to archive that video is Crane.
“Sometimes people’s emotions run high and nonverbal communication can be misinterpreted, or maybe I’m just getting up to get to the next meeting and someone takes that as aggression,” Crane said. “I can show them video and we can see what really happened.”
“I think there is a question to whether it’s even a reliable record of what transpires there, because he does maintain complete control,” said House Assistant Minority Leader Ilana Rubel.
Crane does not always tell people who come into his office that the camera exists, though he did tell his fellow House Republicans about the office surveillance on Jan. 18, shortly after Idaho Reports inquired about the recordings. As of Jan. 22, House Democrats hadn’t officially been informed.
“You don’t have to inform people by state law,” Crane told Idaho Reports, referring to Idaho’s one-party consent law. “I don’t tell people because I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable.”
When asked if Idaho Reports could record its interview with him, Crane said no.
The camera is new this year. “With everything going on in this political climate, I need to protect myself,” Crane explained. “I made this decision because of this session’s tone, and the reports across the country and reports right here in Idaho.”
Those things going on across the country are powerful men being accused of sexual harassment and misconduct. “Some men have expressed concern about being falsely accused of sexual harassment when they’re making a joke,” said Jaclyn J. Kettler, assistant professor with Boise State University’s School of Public Service. “The recording of the legislator’s behavior is an effort to protect from sexual harassment charges.”
This is a concern shared by those putting together respectful workplace policies. “What happens for those people who might be falsely accused of a violation of a respectful workplace policy? How do you respect their privacy and don’t make it so public that they can’t ever recover their good name?” said Rep. Caroline Troy, co-chair of the working group tasked with tackling workplace policies, in a Wednesday interview with Idaho Reports. “If it’s a false accusation, those are equally weighty issues to be considering.”
“In the Time’s Up/Me Too movement, we’ve certainly seen careers shattered based on on an allegation,” Rubel said. “I guess I can understand why someone would want documentation to resist that with, but you have to balance that with the human realities. It creates a lack of trust there, and that fear of what this is being used for, ‘Am I being set up?’ It would definitely be an obstacle to candid and open conversations.”
It’s hard to separate this camera from the #metoo movement. Crane has always been cautious when interacting with women. “I don’t go to lunch with women one-on-one out of respect to my wife and their spouses,” Crane said. “That’s a policy I’ve had for a long time.”
The Idaho Legislature is not Washington D.C. or Hollywood. There have been sexual harassment accusations here, but there has also been something Crane refers to as “gotcha politics.”
“I can get a sense with some of the people that come into my office that I might need to document this. Some of these people that might want to play gotcha politics. And I might feel that I need to have this info… I have a reputation to protect,” Crane said.
According to Crane, four people have been falsely accused of hostile behavior this year, as well as additional harassment allegations. In one case, Crane said security footage disproved one claim, but he declined to discuss the specifics of those accusations.
Crane is attempting to give himself the same proof of innocence. “If someone makes an accusation against me, I can say ‘Here is the camera. Let’s look at the tape,’” Crane said.
Others see it differently. “If they were false accusations, then I imagine the person could just make them about a different time or place than the legislator’s office,” said Jeffrey Lyons, an assistant professor at Boise State University’s School of Public Service.
However, some inside the statehouse seem to be interested in the idea. “I already had one colleague of mine ask me to get him one,” Crane said. “It speaks to the concerns people are having.”
“Individuals have the right to self-record,” said Kathy Griesmyer, public policy strategist for ACLU-Idaho. “Think ag-gag for example. The courts have held up that recorded materials are speech, and should therefore be protected. But, if the government were to be filming members of the public, we wouldn’t want government actors surreptitiously gathering video of individuals without them knowing.”
There are many lawmakers, lobbyists, reporters and citizens who meet with Crane in his office. “Generally I would want to know if I was being recorded if I was meeting with a lawmaker, especially if I’m sharing privileged information or discussing legislative strategy,” said Griesmyer. “I would also want to know how they plan to use the recorded materials as well.”
Crane said he has not yet felt the need to archive any video. Still, his ability to do so, and the knowledge of the camera’s existence, could affect the behavior of those visiting his office.
“If this became more common, it might make negotiations over legislation more difficult, if legislators were worried that there was a record of everything they said somewhere,” Lyons said.
“You have to be able to have offline conversations with your colleagues as you’re brainstorming ideas.” said Rep. Luke Malek. “I wouldn’t want to be judged for every bad idea I’ve ever had.”
“I wouldn’t want to have a brainstorming session in Rep. Cranes office,” Rubel said “You would hate for those ideas to be used in an attack piece.”
Kettler shares those concerns that it could create unease and distrust in the workplace, but added the cameras could improve transparency. As for everyday citizens, Kettler said, “I suppose they might feel hesitant in visiting with their legislators if they know they’re being recorded.”
Clandestine recording are not new to Idaho politicians. In 2016, Rep. Ron Nate used a cell phone camera to capture video of conservations with fellow lawmakers without consent, and Bonneville County GOP official Doyle Beck surreptitiously recorded a 2016 conversation with then-GOP chairman Steve Yates.
Even Crane is still wrestling with how it should be handled. “Maybe I should inform people that they are being recorded, put a sign up on the office,” Crane said, adding he doesn’t think it’s going away. “I would not be surprised if more people do this.”