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Anyone who has participated in a public demonstration is used to seeing police with video cameras recording us commoners as we dare to exercise our Constitutional right to protest. Authorities insist that being videoed should not worry demonstrators… as long as they’re doing nothing wrong.
But what happens when the cameras point the other way? Cell phones and video cameras are now ubiquitous, so police agents frequently find themselves being recorded doing everything from traffic stops to arresting protesters. This has exposed police abuse and even led to some convictions of agents caught roughing up the citizenry, but it has also produced a police backlash against camera-wielding citizens. Across the country, irate cops have been arresting people for the “crime” of filming police actions. Such states as Illinois have outlawed the recording of police without their consent, while Maryland and Massachusetts have even tried to stretch their anti-wiretapping laws to prosecute citizen videographers.
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Some judges are going along with this, saying that “meddling citizens” should not be bothering authorities. As one barked from the bench last October: “I’m always suspicious when the civil liberties people start telling the police how to do their business.” Well, excuse me, Your Powder-headed Honor, but us meddling citizens fought a revolution 236 years ago against King George III’s red-coated authoritarians so we could, indeed, tell the police “how to do their business.” It’s the American way.
The good news is that a federal court of appeals ruled last year that We The People have a Constitutional right to record police actions in a public place. After all, if they’re doing nothing wrong, the authorities should not worry about anyone videoing them. The camera is simply a democratic tool– it empowers citizens to be their own watchdogs.
“Citizens’ rights to videotape police must be protected,” Austin American Statesman, November 10, 2011.
“Watch the police, but be wary of interfering,” Austin American Statesman, January 12, 2012.
“Freedom to click the shutter even as police raise suspicions,” Austin American Statesman, January 22, 2012.