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Watchdogs with cameras

Cowboy hat By Jim Hightower and Phillip Frazer - Wed., 4/25/12
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Anyone who has participated in a public demonstration is used to seeing police with video cameras recording us commoners as we dare to exercise our Constitutional right to protest. They say we shouldn't worry as long as we're doing nothing wrong.

But what happens when the cameras point the other way? Cell phones and video cameras are now ubiquitous, so police agents frequently find themselves being recorded doing everything from traffic stops to arresting protesters. This has exposed police abuse and produced a police backlash. Across the country, irate cops are arresting people for the "crime" of filming police actions. Illinois has outlawed recording police without their consent, while Maryland and Massachusetts have tried using anti-wiretapping laws to prosecute citizen videographers.

Some judges are going along with this, saying that "meddling citizens" should not be bothering authorities. One barked from the bench last October: "I'm always suspicious when civil liberties people start telling the police how to do their business." Well, excuse me, your powder-headed honor, but us meddling citizens fought a revolution 236 years ago against George III's red-coated authoritarians so we could, indeed tell the police "how to do their business." It's the American way.

The good news is that a federal court of appeals ruled last year that We The People have a constitutional right to record police actions in a public place. After all, if they're doing nothing wrong, the authorities should not worry about anyone videoing them. The camera is simply a democratic tool--it empowers us citizens to be our own watchdogs.

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Filed Under: Civil rights