Civil Liberties

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds on Why it's Important to Film the Police


The Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds, daylights as a law professor at University of Tennessee and in his latest column for the Washington Examiner, he calls attention to the importance of watching the watchers with newfangled recording devices. Most law enforcement people are upstanding in executing their duties (and they welcome and sometimes even insist on surveillance). Then there's stuff like this:

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."…

In Massachusetts, meanwhile, the right of citizens to record the police has been upheld by the United States Court of Appeals For The First Circuit in the case of Glik v. Cunniffe.  Passerby Simon Glik caught sight of three police officers arresting a young man. Hearing an onlooker shout that the officers were hurting the man, Glik turned on his cellphone and began capturing video. The police officers objected to being recorded, arresting Glik and charging him with violating the state's "wiretap" law by recording them without their consent, seizing his camera and memory chip as evidence….

Technology may be winning, but the real problem is that America has a class of government workers who believe that they are above citizen scrutiny, and who are prepared to abuse their powers to avoid that scrutiny.  The only solution for this is to punish offenders severely enough that others learn their lesson. 

Some have proposed a federal civil rights law specifically recognizing the right of citizens to record police, and including severe punishments for police and prosecutors who violate that right.  Frankly, it seems like a pretty good idea. Until then, however, we need to educate both police and citizens that photography is not a crime, even when those who wield government power, ostensibly on behalf of the citizenry, would rather not be photographed.

Read the whole thing here.

As the Reason cover image above suggests, we've been covering this issue for a long time. Click to watch "The Government's War on Cameras," which outlines your legal rights when recording the watchers: