When Privacy Law Backfires
Today I caught wind of the trend toward criminalizing the act of recording law enforcement at work. If you don’t feel like hittin’ up that article, people are being arrested for taking video of police officers on the basis of two-way consent laws.
The legal justification for arresting the “shooter” rests on existing wiretapping or eavesdropping laws, with statutes against obstructing law enforcement sometimes cited. Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland are among the 12 states in which all parties must consent for a recording to be legal unless, as with TV news crews, it is obvious to all that recording is underway. Since the police do not consent, the camera-wielder can be arrested. Most all-party-consent states also include an exception for recording in public places where “no expectation of privacy exists” (Illinois does not) but in practice this exception is not being recognized.
If you will allow me to take all of my writing skill, creativity and legal education and put my reaction into words: shit on that.
Now, before I go any further into this issue, let me say this: I am not anti-cop. I am not anti-law enforcement. I believe strongly that, if the police force were to get the funding, staffing, and resources necessary to do their jobs, we’d have fewer problems with officers going off the reservation and fucking up. This is not a cop-bashing post, nor should it be construed as one.
That being said, this is bullshit. We as citizens should, whenever possible, be able to police our police force in this way so long as we do not obstruct. Using technology to record their actions, regardless of whether they consent (and I do not believe that privacy and consent laws apply even in the tiniest way in situations like these, especially when arrests occur in public places) should not only be legal, at this point it ought to be expected.
This reads to me like willful misinterpretation of the law. It is damaging to the ability of the civilian to have a voice and a verifiable complaint about police abuse (and while this may not be about cop bashing, let’s not pretend such abuses do not happen with frightening regularity). Administratively, this doesn’t make sense: if the police are on the level, they shouldn’t have to worry about the results of such public recordings. And if they are not, such recordings (properly handled) aid the legal process.
We should not be living in a state where citizens have to fear reprisals for keeping an eye on the police.