Police Recording Victory

I feel for cops. They go out every day to face lord-knows-what, most of the time to protect the rest of us from harm. They deserve every ounce of thanks we can muster for the good things they do.

Unfortunately, cops, even good ones, go beyond the pale of lawful behavior themselves sometimes. The advent of video recording has made this painfully clear. Some states (Illinois, where I live, is one) have made it illegal to record police officers on duty. This has always struck me as odd at best. At worst, it is a menace to citizens who witness or are victims of rogue police action.

One of the bedrock foundations of our system of government is that the government itself is limited in its powers. Police are allowed to do things that ordinary citizens cannot, for good reason. However, they are not allowed to do just anything. Video taping them on duty is a great way to make sure they stay within bounds.

In an excellent article in The Freeman, Wendy McElroy writes that the days of no-recording laws may be numbered. At issue is the case of Simon Glik:

On October 1, 2007, attorney Simon Glik was arrested for recording  the “rough” treatment of a teenager on the Boston Commons and charged with disturbing the peace, felony wiretapping, and aiding the escape of a prisoner. Glik had stood peacefully to one side, and the prisoner had not escaped. The wiretapping charge resulted from the audio recording made with his cell phone.

The Court ruled that Glik’s case alleging First and Fourth Amendment violations (recording speech in the public realm is considered a First Amendment issue) could go forward:

On the free-speech claim the court ruled, “Glik’s exercise of his First Amendment rights fell well within the bounds of the Constitution’s protections. . . . The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.

Indeed it is, and the Court’s ruling that the case may go forward is at least a nominal victory for individual rights. Let’s hope Gilk’s suit finds favor at the next level.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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