Sunday, August 21, 2011

Film the Police

One of the greatest victories for civil liberties is the widespread availability of personal recording devices.  Advances in technology have dramatically decreased the size of video cameras which means that the public is no longer limited to bulky and unwieldy equipment for personal recordings. Because practically every smart phone has decent video recording capabilities, crimes committed in the public arena that would have gone unreported or unprosecuted due to lack of video evidence are now being punished.  Refreshing.

Look at the riots in Britain.  In this video recorded by a civilian, hooligans pretend to help a badly injured man to his feet only to steal items from his backpack.  The YouTube video was viewed by millions, leading to the identification of the thief, Reece Donovan.  He will most likely spend a long time behind bars.  In the past, this piece of human garbage would have likely gotten away scot free.  The ubiquity of personal recording has prevented that injustice, and many others.

But people don’t use their smart phones just to record ordinary civilians committing crimes, they also record crimes committed by those in power, including police.  Most police are moral, but power corrupts, and police have a lot of power.

When I have an idea for a blog post I write it down and over the course of the next month or two, I bookmark news articles related to the central idea.  So for this post, I bookmarked news articles that had police either being caught on camera committing crimes, police trying to take away cameras after being recorded, or police trying to prosecute civilians who lawfully recorded the actions of the police.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of examples.

However, police shouldn’t be afraid of being recorded in public if they are following the law.  Note: this is MUCH different than the statement, “If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place,” famously spoken by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.  This has been widely condemned and rightfully so.

What’s the difference?  The key is the right to privacy.  It is illegal to disclose the private information of others.  However, in public there is neither the right nor the expectation of privacy.  If I walk down the street wearing a clown costume and riding a unicycle, that act is now public information and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

So cops should expect everything they do in public to be public information, and should not be scared of being recorded by civilians.  I’ve heard the argument that being recorded makes a cop’s job hard.  Let me clear, cops have a tough job to begin with.  But (and I’m repeating myself here), there is no right to privacy in public.  Cops should assume they are being recorded at all times in the public, because in the near future, they will be.

Not that the police are quietly accepting being recorded.  On the contrary, there are now three states where it is illegal to record any on-duty police officer for any reason under any circumstances.  That’s patently absurd. 

If I had all the money in the world, I would fight those laws tooth and nail.  Furthermore, I would start a YouTube channel of just police recordings.  The channel wouldn’t only be videos of police committing crimes, but it would certainly have those.  If someone was being prosecuted for lawfully recording the police, I would pay for their defense.  This would be a great defense of civil liberties.  In fact, I can’t think of anything more patriotic, so this would be our logo.

I didn't create this but I can't seem to find the person who did to properly credit them.

Finally, I want to end on a positive note.  Here is a video of someone recording a police officer that goes pretty smoothly.  Just as this police officer says in the video, it’s the inalienable right of the civilian to record the police in public. 


  1. First you write about making money, now social justice. I am confused.

  2. This blog doesn't have a clear focus. Think of it as a camera lens with a lot of Vaseline on it.