I was conversing with a student in my office not long ago. He is the President of Young Americans for Liberty, for which I serve as faculty advisor. During the conversation, he told me he had nearly been arrested over the weekend. This is not unusual to hear from a young male in college, mind you, but this person does not strike me as your COPS type of guy.
Turns out he was out one weekend night when he saw a big ruckus outside a bar. He pulled out his cell phone camera and started recording. A cop told him to stop–twice–informing him that in Illinois it is illegal to film officers on duty. He complied after being threatened with confiscation of his camera and jail time.
As he related this story, I responded with keen insight and clarity, “Say what?”
He explained that Illinois has such a law. Get out. Sure enough, it is true. I had never heard of such, but it appears to be fairly common, resulting in some unbelievable stories. Check this one out concerning a lady filming from her own front yard.
Of course, the police will never be able to keep up with technology anymore than the Tax Man will be able to keep up with Joe and Jane Citizen when they finally decide they have had enough and start bartering over the Internet for all their material needs. Even now, iPhone users can get an app that allows secret recording.*
I don’t blame cops for feeling unloved and untrusted. I think if I were facing the possibility daily of death by gunfire, I would be a bit surly, too. However, they are not merely going about their own private business; they are conducting our work and often employing force to do so. Citizens have every right to capture public servants doing public work, Illinois and Massachusetts law notwithstanding.
One of the most important principles embodied in our form of government is that citizens should have the means to restrain authorities from abusing their power. That is a bit hard to do when authorities can so limit the means by which their actions can be scrutinized. On this anniversary of our Declaration of Independence, join me in serving notice to police officers, legislators, government agencies, and any other entity within or without our borders. We will not tolerate abuse. Keeping yourself invisible won’t work. We have dealt with tyrants before. All of them had an excuse. None of them won. Remember that as you see our flag waving today.
*Terry does not endorse breaking the law by recording the police or avoiding taxes. He is sure everything the authorities do is above board and that no one in a position of power would ever abuse it.