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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

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The Law, Lies, and Videotapes

A few weeks ago, USAToday ran an opinion piece about an American citizen’s right to videotape a police office performing his duty (ies), while being free from both persecution and prosecution for doing so (http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2010-07-15-editorial15_ST_N.htm).
In an illustrating case, a Maryland man named Anthony Graber was pulled over on his motorcycle for speeding and pooping wheelies earlier this year. Either unknown or unnoticed by the intercepting plainclothes Maryland state trooper, Graber was wearing a helmet camera which recorded the resulting encounter; the trooper cut off Graber on an exit ramp in his unmarked vehicle, “and drew his gun before announcing that he was a law enforcement officer.” Graber posted (the) video of the encounter on YouTube a week later.



But among the throngs of those who viewed the video on the site were authorities from both the police and the Maryland State Attorney’s offices. The police obtained warrants to search Graber’s home and seized his computers. The state attorney general filed 4 felony charges against him for “violating Maryland’s wiretap law.” Graber, if convicted of the charges could be looking at up to 16 years in prison, as well as the loss of his security government clearance, and gaining all of the rights and privileges that go along with being a convicted felon.
While there is clearly enough absence of common sense to go around in this particular case, in other cases police and prosecutors sometimes abuse their authority by either misapplying, misinterpreting, or—in the most grievous of instances—maliciously prosecuting individuals who are well within their implied as well as Constitutional rights to monitor public servants.
We’ve all seen the television shows showcasing instances where police dashboard-mounted cameras have yielded exciting footage of harrowing police encounters with criminals, or news reports where the same camera setup reveals police misconduct—all are newsworthy episodes. In such instances, neither the producers of these television shows nor news directors have been known to have been threatened with such legal actions. What makes this instance any different? The only conclusion is that some government officials are potentially peed-off that any American citizen would have the presence of mind to post his police encounter online for the world to see, and in the process take away some of their power and/or discretion.
Make no mistake people…we are the ones who watch the watchers. Its every American citizen’s right to legally observe—and if necessary record—those who work for us, as we are the one who pay their salaries. It matters not if we use our cellphone cameras, a pen and pad, our blogs, or just our eyes while alerting would-be malefactors to our presence. Obvious scare and/or intimidation tactics by those threatened by the power of the people should not only be revealed on a routine basis, but challenged to the best of our ability.

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