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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Watching the Watchers

Public officials, public places, public acts and some old fashioned bureaucratic ass covering:

But it wasn't his daredevil stunt that has the 25-year-old staff sergeant for the Maryland Air National Guard facing the possibility of 16 years in prison. For that, he was issued a speeding ticket. It was the video that Graber posted on YouTube one week later -- taken with his helmet camera -- of a plainclothes state trooper cutting him off and drawing a gun during the traffic stop near Baltimore.

In early April, state police officers raided Graber's parents' home in Abingdon, Md. They confiscated his camera, computers and external hard drives. Graber was indicted for allegedly violating state wiretap laws by recording the trooper without his consent.

Another example of why the most dangerous phrase in the English language is: "There ought to be a law." A law intended to protect genuinely private conservations twisted, apparently with little effort, to allow the police to hide their conduct. What part of the term "public servant" do they not understand?

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 27, 2010 | Permalink


This sounds like a grotesque misapplication of the law. It is not illegal to photograph strangers in a public place in any jurisdiction of which I am aware. The trooper's own vehicle most likely has a full-time dash cam. Most of these charges end up being thrown out. This "expectation of privacy" thing is donkey crap; unless you're on private property, you have no privacy, period.

I wonder if these charges would get even this far if the video recordings were silent? Technically then it's not a "recorded conversation."

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-07-27 6:24:04 AM


Shane, I distinctly remember you being against police having to have cameras in their cars, because it violated the police officer's privacy.

Privacy for the officers, not for the public they police, etc.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-07-27 10:58:04 AM

I'm pretty sure I said nothing of the sort, Mike. In fact, I don't oppose cameras in public at all, and have always maintained that you have no right to privacy in a public place. Hence the distinction between "public" and "private."

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-07-27 1:04:12 PM

I know from the experience in the UK and watching some police forces admire it, the surveillance society is justified by "if you're not doing anything wrong than you have nothing to worry about."

Well, fair is fair. Videotape the cops, gov't, and anyone else with power over our lives.

Posted by: h2o273kk9 | 2010-07-27 3:51:50 PM

I guess the persons who videotaped the Rodney King beating are scratching their heads on this one.

In reality, police should have less right to privacy than the rest of us. Public servants need to be held to a higher standard, and keeping an eye on them is not only our right, it's our duty.

Posted by: dp | 2010-07-27 5:33:38 PM

When OPP commissioner Julien Fantino wanted cameras in cop cars to show why officers need to use force on, or kill civilians he said "cameras don't lie". After cops tasered that poor polish fellow to death at a BC aiport the head of the RCMP said "video doesn't tell the whole story". I guess it depends on whose committing the murder.

Posted by: S Arthurs | 2010-07-27 10:01:55 PM

I agree we need to keep an eye on them, dp, but it's hypocritical to hold them to a higher standard than the people at large. Where do you think they get their recruits? They're not another species; they're us.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-07-28 10:12:13 AM

It is incorrect and naive to believe that what is filmed is necessarily true, or rather the whole truth. It is true that cameras do not lie but it is not necessarily true of the person filming. If one is truly interested in the truth regarding an incident, then the whole thing must be filmed and viewed from start to finish. Far too often what is shown is totally out of context, especially when taken by passers-by who either were not around when the incident started or ignored it.

To take any film or video footage as gospel is the same as believing that anything one reads is true.

Posted by: Alain | 2010-07-28 10:46:01 AM

I agree we need to keep an eye on them, dp, but it's hypocritical to hold them to a higher standard than the people at large.

Why is it hypocritical to hold police to a higher standard? Police are allowed to carry guns in public. I'm not. Police are allowed to place people under arrest, and deny those people their rights for pretty much any reason (see: breach of the peace). I'm not.

If police have greater authority than me, than they should be held to a higher standard than me. I see no hypocrisy there.

Military justice, unlike civil justice observes this principle, for instance. Which is interesting, when you think about it. Usually when a soldier commits a crime, the military justice system holds them to a far higher standard than a civilian, and the punishment is usually far worse.

Which is probably why you've heard from people in the military who are not sympathetic to the police. In fact, my friends who are in the Canadian military, who I've had a chance to talk about this with, think quite low of police -- in the sense, that people in the military take the job of upholding freedom very seriously, and police treat freedom as an obstacle to their job.

The job of a police officer is well-defined. It's to uphold justice. And it so happens that justice has a definition. Sometimes upholding justice is dangerous. But working on high-voltage electrical equipment is dangerous. We don't automatically give high-voltage electricians the benefit of the doubt on everything just because their job is dangerous.

I often feel this is why conservatives are so sympathetic to police. They view them as warriors against crime, and they look up to them for hard and dangerous job they do, and are wiling to give them the benefit of the doubt for this reason. But there's really no logical line to be drawn between doing a hard and dangerous job and being an honest and ethical person. In fact, it's quite easy to be someone who does hard and dangerous jobs and is quite dishonest and unethical; see criminal gangs, for instance.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-07-28 11:02:18 AM

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