Cameras for Me but Not for Thee

The New York Times reports that "hundreds of law enforcement agencies" are experimenting with "body-mounted video cameras, using them to document arrests, traffic stops and even more significant encounters, like officer-involved shootings." Meanwhile, some states forbid citizens to record the same encounters, while in others police lawlessly hassle those who do. Once police are routinely recording their public interactions, Florida International University law professor Howard Wasserman tells the Times, "to say 'we can have the cameras and nobody else can' really becomes problematic." In fact, there should be more restrictions on recordings by police than there are on recordings by ordinary citizens, because police have special coercive powers. They can gain access to people's homes, for example, even without a warrant, simply by identifying themselves as armed agents of the state. If their body-mounted video cameras are on all the time, they may capture embarrassing scenes in settings where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. U.C.-Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring suggests one such scenario:

If a police officer is taking a picture of every interaction, one of the things that he may find is me, naked as a jaybird, when my wife calls to complain. Let's assume that it's either against the law or not, but I sure don't want it on YouTube. The potential for a sort of permanent embarrassment is a looming presence when everything is filmed.

Even in public, police recordings can have an intimidating impact. Imagine officers filming a protest against police brutality, for instance, or recording people as they enter and exit a head shop or adult bookstore. In short, the law in states like Illinois, which gives police more latitude to make audio recordings (and video recordings that include audio) than everyone else, has things precisely backward.

With that caveat in mind, I agree with Zimring that more recording of public encounters, whether by police or by citizens, is a positive development, helping to resolve all sorts of disputes about officer misconduct and defendant guilt. The technology is neither pro-cop nor anti-cop. While it can implicate officers, it can exonerate them too, and the same goes for arrestees.

I criticized the double standard embedded in the Illinois Eavesdropping Act in a column last month. Radley Balko described "The War on Cameras" in the January issue of Reason. Reason.tv covered the subject in May:

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  • omg||

    Yeah, but who is going to have control over that footage when a dispute happens? I'm sure there would never be a scenario where all footage of the cops behaving badly would be lost to a tragic technical glitch, but everything else would stay. That would never happen ever.

    Ah well, I suppose things couldn't possibly get worse, seeing as how the courts and prosecutors already treat everything the cops have to say as the 100% undisputed truth.

  • sarcasmic||

    When the video conflicts with the officer's testimony, then obviously it is the video that is incorrect.

  • Mensan||

    There will be no conflict, because in situations where there may have been a conflict it will be found that the camera malfunctioned, and no video was recorded.

  • ||

    Waco, OC, to name two biggies.

  • Max||

    Thissi off topic, but what does Ron Paul think wearing false eyebrows does for him? Where on earth does one get false eyebrows for men? Are they made in China? Could Ron Paul be wearing eyebrows taken from the face of some poor Chinese dissident?

  • ||

    EDDDDDWWWWWWAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRDDDDDDDDDD

    You like being retarded? Is that working out for you?

  • Mensan||

    Ron Paul: extra large eyebrows.
    Gary Johnson: no eyebrows.
    Coincidence?

  • Max||

    Arf! Arf! Arf!

  • David Smith||

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the Supreme Court rule that the ONLY power the police possess that is not possessed by 100% of the commoners is the power of traffic stops? And that only for reasons of common sense, not law?

  • sarcasmic||

    Commoners do not have the power of arrest.

    When we detain people against their will it is called kidnapping.

  • Mensan||

    No, it's called a citizen's arrest.

  • ||

    Citizens can only arrest for felonies, not for misdemeanors. Also, citizens arrests mostly occur in works of fiction.

  • ||

    Returning to the topic at hand... the video thing has similarities to DNA in that it can be used both to exhonerate or indict, however, most folks would'nt want their DNA gathered without consent "just in case"... The police (IMO)forfeit their right to not be monitored in their actions when they take $$$ to act as an agent of the state and therefore the people (their employer ultimately)...bit of a run on thought, sorry for the grammar.

  • The Sad Truth||

    Yes, the wiretapping laws in 12 states barring audio recording without the consent of both parties wouldn't seem to apply to an interaction between a police officer and a citizen. The recording party is obviously consenting.The other party is performing a public action as an officer of the state - and as such, does not need to consent to recording. Speech by a public official while performing their official duties is by necessity, PUBLIC speech. Otherwise, it would be illegal to record speeches by a politician, etc. Hopefully, courts will ultimately recognize this and rule accordingly.

  • Max||

    Are Ron Paul's fake eyebrows synthetic?

  • Max||

    Arf! Arf! Arf!

  • David Smith||

    Sarcasmic,

    Commoners damn well do have power of arrest. It's smart to take a class in "citizens arrest" (I have), but we've got it including power of appropriate restraint. And it ain't kidnap if you've dotted all the i's. It's 100% legal and enforceable.

  • sarcasmic||

    Then why do I hear stories of store owners being charged with kidnapping for detaining shoplifters while waiting for the police?

    Is it because shoplifting is not a felony?

  • David Smith||

    You gotta dot all the i's.

    Do it wrong and have a district attorney w dreams of future power and you're in trouble. You can't just grab them and sit on them.

    By the way, check the details on your stories. In this state, grab and sit is illegal detention. You have to move them a distance of 4 feet for it to be kidnap.

  • sarcasmic||

    "In this state, grab and sit is illegal detention. You have to move them a distance of 4 feet for it to be kidnap."

    Now that's just stupid. I mean, seriously stupid.

    You sit on the thief until the cops arrive and it's citizen's arrest.
    You toss the creep into the closet or tie him to a post while waiting for the cops and it's kidnapping.

    Mind numbingly stupid.

    Then again, most laws are.

  • David Smith||

    Sarcasmic,

    Read the posting before opening mouth.

    Grab and sit is illegal detention if you do it wrong. Do it right and it is legal use of appropriate force (i.e. restraint).

    The laws may be stupid, but they get worse if people don't know what they're talking about.

  • Dave||

    These abuses of citizens won't stop until we have fundamental reform which holds police accountable for unlawful conduct. In the case above, it was great that the NYCLU was able to obtain concessions and a "settlement" but the criminal actions of police were never appropriately addressed. If police unlawfully arrest and incarcerate a citizen, the offending police should be prosecuted and serve jail time for kidnapping and violation of civil liberties.

  • sarcasmic||

    You mean that those who enforce the law should be expected to follow it?

    You don't say!

  • David S.||

    It isn't the camera that is the problem, it is the lack of reciprocity.

    I don't mind cops having cameras as long as the camera can't be turned off, stay on while they are in the police station, and supervisors to have them.

  • David S.||

    that should read.
    ... supervisors have to be recorded too.

  • Mr. Mark||

    Sometimes even when cameras do record police acting like imbeciles it fails to produce the appropriate response.

  • David Smith||

    Even as commoners have all the powers of the police (w one exception), the police should have all the rights of the commoners. Even while on duty.

    If some cop wants to record to cover his own butt - GOOD. But by "equality under the law" I have the same right.

    Period.

  • jasno||

    filming a protest against police brutality, for instance, or recording people as they enter and exit a head shop or adult bookstore

    I totally agree, and at the same time I'm compelled to remind you that, very soon, you should expect everything you do in public, including these types of activities, to be recorded somewhere. Sometime down the line, you should also expect mass aggregation and analysis of such footage by both private and public entities.

    In short, you have no privacy in public, and you better damn well get used to it.

  • Geotpf||

    I would be in favor of the following law being passed by the Federal Government:

    "It is legal in every situation for anybody to take photographs, video recordings, and audio recordings of government employees in their course of their official business, except in cases of personal privacy (IE, no cameras in bathrooms) and national security."

    This is a case where the Federal government needs to make the states comply. Also, note that my proposed law goes beyond just law enforcement officers to include all government employees.

  • David Smith||

    This is another case where the law is too complicated for the commoners . . .

    However, there are no laws against various things, and I have made bureaucrats back down when I demanded they identify some statement as law or policy. I would then turn into the world's worst cast iron son of a bitch when I pointed out policy is not legally enforceable.

    Gawwd I hate what the lawyers have done to man's highest achievement.

  • ||

    Unless taking a whiz is official business, you don't need the personal privacy exception.

  • Geotpf||

    Well, it is possible to go to the bathroom while on the clock. I think that exception would need to be included, otherwise people would follow government employees into the John with cameras.

  • Paul||

    "body-mounted video cameras, using them to document arrests, traffic stops and even more significant encounters, like officer-involved shootings." Meanwhile, some states forbid citizens to record the same encounters, while in others police lawlessly hassle those who do. Once police are routinely recording their public interactions, Florida International University law professor Howard Wasserman tells the Times, "to say 'we can have the cameras and nobody else can' really becomes problematic." In fact, there should be more restrictions on recordings by police

    I disagree with this. As a follower of Mr. Balko's reporting, I've been an advocate of this for years because I think it will help the public.

    The dash-cam was a nice start, but I felt we had the technology to go further and have all interactions with the officer and the public recorded. The dash cam was fine right up until the officer moved off camera.

    How many times would H&R readers loved to have seen a first-person cam for one of these SWAT raids where innocents got killed?

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