Courts

The First Amendment vs. the War on Cameras

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As Jacob Sullum reported last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit issued a preliminary injunction against Illinois' controversial eavesdropping law, which made it a felony to record on-duty police officers in public. Judge Richard Posner, an influential federal judge and notable figure in the field of law and economics, filed a dissent in the case, arguing that the First Amendment provides no protection against the state law. Writing at The First Amendment Center, Douglas Lee takes aim at Posner's dissent:

Those fond of the First Amendment should be glad that Richard Posner isn't in charge of interpreting it….

Pointing to a long list of circumstances in which regulation of speech is permitted — including child pornography, securities fraud and laws making medical records confidential — Posner argued that Illinois should be allowed to add to that list a prohibition against recording conversations between police officers and members of the public in public places.

"The constitutional right that the majority creates is likely to impair the ability of police both to extract information relevant to police duties and to communicate effectively with persons whom they speak with in the line of duty," Posner said. "A fine line separates 'mere' recording of a police-citizen encounter (whether friendly or hostile) from obstructing police operations by distracting the officers and upsetting the citizens they are speaking with."

Given the extent to which law enforcement agencies record civilians during investigations, arrests and interviews, it seems somewhat ironic to claim that recording police personnel in public places will somehow adversely affect personal privacy and public safety. In any event, the notion that reporters and others have a First Amendment right to film and write down what they see in public places but not the right to record what they hear in those same places is difficult to understand and justify.

Read the rest here. For more on the legality of recording the police, see Radley Balko's "The War on Cameras" and Steve Silverman's "7 Rules for Recording Police."

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  1. is likely to impair the ability of police both to extract information relevant to police duties and to communicate effectively with persons whom they speak with in the line of duty

    So? My copy says “no law”, and admits of no exception for impairing the ability of police to extract information.

    In fact, a couple of its neighbors were passed specifically for that purpose.

    A fine line separates ‘mere’ recording of a police-citizen encounter (whether friendly or hostile) from obstructing police operations by distracting the officers and upsetting the citizens they are speaking with

    Isn’t this an admission that the current law is overbroad, even if “distracting officers” was a permissible basis for restricting speech?

    1. This comment distracts public officials. Please report to Disintegration Chamber #12 for processing.

    2. I notice that Posner’s objection centers on the practical aspects of police encounters and has no mention of the constitutionality/unconstitutionality of the law in it. Basically he just says the law makes it easier for the police to do what they want so fuck the first amendment. Pure progressive thinking. How did this guy get to be a judge?

      1. It’s also bullshit. No negative impact on their ability to lawfully execute their duties.

        1. As if even that were a justifiable cause for the subversion of supreme law.

  2. We are through the looking glass people. A cop on policeone, commenting about on an article about the Illinois camera law linked to reason.com.

    1. The copious faggotry on display at that site daily brings my brain close to detonation. Fucking thugs. It’s unbelievable.

  3. Police union in Las Vegas threatens legal action over body cameras. So is this confirmation that the issue they have with cameras actually has nothing to do with cops thinking they have a weapon or people misleadingly editing video, right?

  4. ….a prohibition against recording conversations between police officers and members of the public in public places.

    Well, if the “members of the public” had any sense they wouldn’t be talking to the goddamned cops in the first place.

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