In recent times, we've had a judiciary that seems to go out of it's way to give government agents Carte Blanche to do whatever they want, as soon as someone makes some half-hearted reference to 'national security', or 'anti-terrorism'. There's expanded wire-taps, a constitution free zone, and even the government spying on legitimate protesters. Thankfully, one judge hasn't fallen prey to domestic terrorism, and has ruled sensibly that members of the public have a right to film the police as they go about their duty.
To many, the incident at the center of this topic will be familiar already. It concerns this video of Anthony Graber riding his motorbike, and being stopped by Maryland State Trooper, J.D. Uhler.
When Mr Graber posted the video, recorded on his brand new video-helmet, onto youtube (above), the Maryland State Police obtained a warrant and raided Graber's house, citing violation of state wiretapping laws. That's right, for videotaping the police, in public, he was charged with Felony Wiretapping.
It was an action even the state Attorney General didn't approve of, and he issued a statement (pdf) to that effect in August. In a smart decision by the judge, he threw out the the charges resulting from that warrant, leaving just the traffic charges. In his verdict, the judge gave this observation.
Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state ultimately accountable to the public. When we exercise that power in public for a, we should not expect our actions to be shielded from public observation. “Sed quis custodiet ipsos cutodes”
The verdict is a welcome one, and one that should be repeated elsewhere. Police officers around the world routinely run video cameras in their vehicles, to present evidence in court if needed for the prosecution of a crime. At the same time, however, police officers (not all of course, just some) are hesitant to be recorded as they go about their duty. Their main worry is that they are caught acting outside the bounds of their powers and training, and can be held accountable for criminal charges from their behavior. Police officers must keep in mind at all times, though, that they are servants of the law, not masters, and that the only way the public can keep them to account, regain their trust in them, and further a better understanding, is if the police do not act as if they are unaccountable, and actively work to root out the bad apples in their midst.
Ultimately, it comes down to one thing. If you are afraid of being held accountable to the law, then you have no business attempting to enforce the law.
The ruling in Maryland vs Graber. (via the ACLU)
Maryland v Graber