Friday, September 2, 2011

Things that everyone (but cops) knows are legal #1

Here's some good news. The First Circuit Court of Appeals has held (acknowledged, really) that it is perfectly legal to record police officers in the performance of their duties. Over the past several years, there have been numerous instances of people on the streets pulling out their smart phones and recording instances of police brutality or excessive force. Or even just regular old police encounters, just to ensure that the encounter didn't go south. With the proliferation of these recordings has come a rise in cases where police arrested the person doing the recording. Charging them with eavesdropping or other violations, alleging that it's not legal to record people without their permission. The linked blog post cites several examples, including one where Illinois prosecutors are still trying to incarcerate an individual for up to 75 years. (For more examples, check out The Agitator, Radley Balko.)

Here's my question to all these cops and prosecutors who try so hard to intimidate the public into not recording police officers on duty: What are you afraid of? What are you doing wrong that you don't want the public to see and have indisputable evidence of? It seems to me that police ought to appreciate having recordings of their encounters so they are protected against false claims of brutality. Since they're all so professional and never violate anyone's constitutional rights, I just can't imagine why they would object to having their job performances recorded for posterity.


Transplanted Lawyer said...

Everything you said, plus:

1. When you're out in public, people can see you. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy for any act undertaken in public by anyone.

2. The police are on the public's business. The public has a right to know what its agents are doing when they are executing their business.

3. There is nothing that the creation of a video recording does which interferes with a police officer's execution of his lawful duties. Indeed, a video recording does not interfere with a police officer exceeding his authority and violating a detainee's civil rights -- although it does heighten the chances that there will be consequences for such an activity.

S said...

All excellent points. I went intentionally minimalist on this post because it's just so dang obvious that recording police while those police are engaged in their duties is fully protected, even desirable, activity!

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