The Opaque Society

In response to a flood of Facebook and YouTube videos that depict police abuse, a new trend in law enforcement is gaining popularity. In at least three states, it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer.

More here.

Hat tip: Robin Hanson.

Addendum: Tom Bell offers legal commentary and an interesting idea, a bumper sticker which serves as legal warning.

Comments

I doubt very much that this practice would withstand scrutiny by the US Supreme Court.

Radley Balko is all over this beat. His blog is almost depressingly insightful on police, prosecutor, forensic science, and judicial abuse.

Police have been harrassing photographers in the UK for some time since the (i think) 2003 Terrorism Act.

Cameras confiscated and photos deleted etc.

Unfortunate to see this sort of thing on your side of the pond.

That is pretty messed up. It reminds me of that Southpark episode with the Catholic Church, where the cardinals and whoever discuss how to avoid getting caught, rather than stopping wrong doings.

Alex: Contrary to what's implied in Gizmodo's lede, these laws seem to be all-purpose privacy and anti-wiretapping statutes and are not aimed at police per se. Nor are they "new." The Maryland law used to harass Anthony John Graber is the same one used to prosecute Linda Tripp after she secretly recorded Monica Lewinsky. As any MR reader can see, those two cases are hugely differnt. In any case I would one-up Radley Balko: States should pass laws making it legal to record ANY government official performing his/her duties, not just police.

Of course not, because us peons have no expectation that our tax dollars will not be used to invade our privacy, while cops obviously deserve to expect privacy while they are kneeling on our necks.

The Maryland law used to harass Anthony John Graber is the same one used to prosecute Linda Tripp after she secretly recorded Monica Lewinsky. As any MR reader can see, those two cases are hugely differnt. In any case I would one-up Radley Balko: States should pass laws making it legal to record ANY government official performing his/her duties, not just police.

Monica Lewinsky was a government official and the controversy was over her performing her duties, no?

I'm not a fan of two-party consent in the first place, precisely because they can be used in this way. It's unfortunately unreasonable to expect any legislature to pass an exception for public officers-- those public employees unions' have a lot of power.

There are legal and ethical issues to be sorted out. Unfortunately, the way our system sorts them out is to invite people to abuse their power and see what happens.

For example, I've always found the requirement of "standing" to be asinine. We obviously have laws to deter action, but you can't sue based on deterrence, but only if you survive the beating they give you for defying the bad law.

"This just might be the MR post where I won't see any dissenting opinions. Rare. :) I'd be curious to see if there is ever a blog that can take the opposite (pro-cop) position on this issue. Seems unlikely..."

I'll take a shot ...

As in the real world, if you want to find pro-cop or even objective discussion about cops, you'll typically need to go to places where the cops are. (In which case you're not going to get 'objective' discussion, but you're more likely to find a rational discussion - something you're probably not going to get here.) Otherwise, as the replies here demonstrates, these topics touch on not just anti-authority feelings, concerns for individual rights and abuse of power, but on outright derangement against cops that is widespread even among the educated.

Apparently cops think they qualify for the same civil liberties as the rest of us.

Apparently cops think they qualify for the same civil liberties as the rest of us.

Which they do -- off duty. When acting as officers of the state, they have an obligation to submit to citizen oversight of their actions on behalf of the state. Otherwise they're overlords and not public servants.

And I, for one, would not welcome our new scrutiny-free police overlords.

Sorry Doug, Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alioto would see nothing wrong here and Kennedy would probably join them.

In cases like these, I try to put myself on the other end of things. However, I cannot find reason enough on the side of the cops for it to be illegal to film them. What is the pro-cop argument? Does it simply stem from not wanting to be under constant fear of surveillance?

Granted, if I was under constant fear of surveillance at my job, I wouldn't like it, but I'm not a cop. Everybody has moral obligations at their job or anywhere, but it would seem vitally important--like society on the brink of chaos important--for the police to have an unshakable moral compass. Surveillance of police then, while irritating to them, cannot be anything but a good thing as it helps police steady their own compasses which, like anyone else's, might at times waver.

Heh, just playing devil's advocate and remarking on the irony. The "cops who do nothing wrong have nothing to hide" reminds me of the arguments for the Patriot Act and other libertarian nightmares. How they are different is the main issue, and I suspect it has to do with who is defining "wrong" and who is answering to whom.

I'll take a stab at playing devil's advocate.

Imagine being a well-intentioned cop, doing a job that (you think) most non-cops don't understand well. Imagine being in a situation where you need to subdue a violent offender. Judgement calls need to be made. You make the tough, split-second decisions that need to be made. You use the minimum force necessary to get the job done, but it looks pretty bad to an outsider. (Parallel: I've read that hockey fights are not nearly as painful as they look to outsiders.) So, you're doing your job. But some guy catches all this on video, and posts it to YouTube. The result: you're famous, and guilty until proven innocent.

Now, that may not be the *typical* case; it's more like the worst-case scenario for an honest cop. But that may be the kind of fear that inspires such laws.

Talk to any good criminal defense attorney and ask them if they believe cops lie only a little bit.

A bit like talking with any good priest and asking him if god exists, I'd think.

I am astonished by the general tenor of these comments. The Ministry of Truth seems to have an awful lot of people in its grasp.

You find a thread that's essentially entirely opposed to the tactics of the police here to be like something out of 1984? You are a very strange person.

So this video, shot in public, depicting police abuse, if shot currently, would be a criminal violation: http://www.gazette.net/stories/04132010/prinnew153805_32578.php

I feel utterly disturbed by this.

I mean seriously. I'm not sure what I should be more terrified by: the fact that I could be prosecuted for accidentally videotaping in public while a police officer is present; or by the fact that I am part of the same species as individuals who have the moral capability to make it illegal to videotape a police officer in public.

Thank Gaia (or Uni, or God, or whatever) for Radley Balko and his Agitator blog. I am not aware of anyone else doing this kind of heavy lifting on police heavy handedness. Check out this map that he and Cato put up.

This is NOT a new issue. One of the first comments I ever left on a website, I think it was Bruce Schneier, 5 or 6 years ago, was that the only people who benefit from two-party consent laws are scum - nothing prevents anyone who participates in a conversation from reporting what was said - ALL two-party consent does it to provide a shield to protect liars.

This is fucking annoying. What the FUCK is a pfandbon?

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