Your right to record the police

In an era where virtually every phone is a combination audio recorder, still shot and video camera, one disturbing trend of late has been the increasing habit of police to arrest citizens who record their activities in the public square. For those opposed to such practices, a couple bits of good news are brought to light by Glenn Reynolds in the Examiner.

All over America, police have been arresting people for taking video or making sound recordings of them, even though such arrests are pretty clearly illegal. Usually, the charges are dropped once the case becomes public, and usually that’s the end of it.

But sometimes things go farther, and in two recent cases, they’ve gone far enough to bite back at the police and prosecutors involved. We need more such biting.

The first case comes from Barack Obama’s hometown of Chicago.

Tiawanda Moore had made a sexual harassment complaint against a Chicago patrolman. When she was visited by police Internal Affairs officers who tried to persuade her to drop the charge, she recorded the audio using her Blackberry. Though the audio reflected rather poorly on the Internal Affairs officers, the response of the Chicago state’s attorney was to act not against the offending officers, but against Ms. Moore, charging her with “wiretapping.”

After the tape was played, the jury took less than an hour to return a verdict of not guilty. “When we heard that, everyone (on the jury) just shook their head,” said one juror interviewed afterward. “If what those two investigators were doing wasn’t criminal, we felt it bordered on criminal, and she had the right to record it.”

Glenn goes on to detail the additional case of Simon Glik in Massachusetts, who recently won an appeal in the United States Court of Appeals For The First Circuit. Mr. Glik was arrested for videotaping police in the act of detaining a suspect on a public street and subsequently charged with “wiretapping.”

I should say up front that I’m pretty much always a big supporter of the police, having had more than a few of them in our family. But when they conduct their business out in public, they are held to a high standard. If they are doing their jobs properly, they should have nothing to fear from the scrutiny of the rest of the citizens. Even in cases where misleading footage is used by people with an ax to grind, they will still have their day in court and can clear their names. Seizing people’s cameras and arresting them for the simple act of recording the activities of public servants in their communities is pretty much contrary to everything we stand for in a free society.

I’m with Reynolds on this one. We need to see more of these cases disposed of in this fashion and, eventually, a definitive decision at the highest level to stop these sorts of arrests.

Edit: “dong” = “doing” Thanks. 🙂