War on Cameras

"Wiretapping" Trial of CopBlock Founder Begins Today

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Adam Mueller

For those keeping track (and you should be!), the trial of CopBlock founder Adam "Ademo Freeman" Mueller begins today. Mueller faces a potential 21 years in prison for the high crime of recording phone calls with public officials while seeking comments on a video of police brutality at a New Hampshire high school. You see, Mueller identified himself to the public servants as a CopBlock representative when he reached them at their offices, and explained the reason for his call, but he didn't explicitly say he was recording the conversation. Prosecutors insist that's a felony.

The Union-Leader explains the basis for the charges:

The conversations involved an incident Oct. 3 at West High School in which a school resource officer arrested a student in the cafeteria. The incident was videotaped by another student, who had met Mueller and his CopBlock.org co-founder, Peter Eyre, a few weeks before.

Mueller is accused of recording conversations about the incident Oct. 4 with Police Capt. Jonathan Hopkins, West Principal Mary Ellen McGorry, and West secretary Denise Michael, without their consent.

The student video shows the officer grab a student, push him face down on a cafeteria table and handcuff him. As part of the videotape posted on CopBlock.org, Mueller included portions of recorded phone calls with Hopkins, McGorry and Michael.

Under the state's wiretap law, it is a crime to audio-record someone without his permission if the speaker has a reasonable expectation that what he is saying is not subject to interception.

New Hampshire law says:

570-A:2 Interception and Disclosure of Telecommunication or Oral Communications Prohibited. –
    I. A person is guilty of a class B felony if, except as otherwise specifically provided in this chapter or without the consent of all parties to the communication, the person:

But the law also states that the person being wiretapped must be "exhibiting an expectation that such communication is not subject to interception under circumstances justifying such expectation." And, of course, it includes exceptions for law enforcement.

So … Does a government official, in a taxpayer-supported office, using publicly funded phones to answer questions from an activist, journalist or any other person under the sun about official business really have an expectation of privacy?

Carlos Miller of Photography Is Not a Crime, who has worked with Mueller, has an in-depth post up at which he writes, "It was clear from the conversation that Mueller was seeking on-the-record comments and it was clear from the responses of both police and the school official that they were well aware of that."

New Hampshire prosecutors, however, apparently disagree. More to the point, I should say, they see an opening for going after an individual who has caused them some degree of inconvenience. So it's probably wise that Mueller's supporters are getting a jump on the state's jury nullification law, which, starting next year, requires that jurors be notified of their right to judge laws as well as the facts of cases, and are distributing information of their own.

The trial is, as you'd expect, getting full coverage at CopBlock.org. And check out Carlos Miller's post for very helpful video and background.

Update: Mueller was found guilty and "sentenced to just under three months behind bars." And yes, that was pretty damned fast.