Is filming the police against the law?

In a video from 2010, a state trooper in Maryland flashed his gun while pulling over motorcyclist Anthony Graber for speeding. When Graber posted the video from his helmet cam on YouTube, prosecutors charged him with breaking the state’s wiretapping law because he recorded the trooper’s voice without consent. A judge dismissed the case.

Which is a more compelling argument?

a)¬†“They need to move quickly, in split seconds, without giving a lot of thought to what the adverse consequences for them might be.”

or

b) “But police officers above all others should be subject to this kind of filming because we have a duty to hold them accountable as powerful public servants.”

The Maryland Wiretap Law is codified as Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Section 10-402. Under that statute, certain communications may not be recorded so long as they are “interceptions” of wire, oral, or electronic communications.

Attorney General Robert McDonald advised the court to dismiss the case stating: “The Wiretap Law regulates the interception of oral, wire, or electronic commuications. The typical encounter between a citizen and police officer does not involve a wire or electronic communication. Thus, the application of the Act will turn on whether a recording of the audio portion of such an encounter constitutes the interception of an ‘oral communication’ protected by the Act.” The opinion goes on to state that such a decision would turn on whether the oral communication was deemed to be a private one.

Here, it is safe to say that a police officer ordering a motorists off his vehicle on a public highway is not a private communication, especially when that officer is shouting and brandishing a firearm.

The more interesting question is whether citizens want the freedom to be able to record police officers doing their jobs (see also Rodney King, Oscar Grant, and the TV show Cops).

From Morning Edition.

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