Leadership

IT pros have the power to watch the watchmen

TechRepublic member Todd Fluhr believes that IT pros are on the front lines as old laws collide with new technologies that allow intrusions into personal privacy and freedoms. Do you agree that tech professionals have the power and the right to watch the watchmen? Explain your answer in the discussion thread.

You are just one record button away from committing a crime. No criminal intent is required on your part. In fact, you may be standing peacefully on your own property, sitting in your car, or just enjoying a cup of coffee in a public place. Regardless of your intent, you may find yourself arrested and all of your electronics, computers, data storage, and digital equipment confiscated by the police.

All for pushing the "record" button on your cell phone and pointing it at the police.

It makes no difference if you're simply witnessing a situation - the very act of recording police can land you in jail. Attempting to document a personal legal encounter, such as a routine traffic stop, is even worse. Using your cell phone to record police is not allowed under any circumstances. Although laws vary from state to state, law enforcement agencies across the country are actively working to criminalize citizens who record officers at work with cell phones and video cameras.

To be clear, we're not talking about spying on off-duty officers, undercover operations, or situations where an officer's life may be put in danger. We're talking about recording an officer in public or on your property during the course of their public duty and job performance. Recording the police as they enter your home or beat a suspect across the street is breaking the law and risking your own safety.

Many states prosecute violators based on laws originally intended to protect individual privacy from unlawful wire tapping. These laws are referred as "two-party consent laws." They require that both individuals in a phone call or private conversation are aware that their conversation is being recording. Police officers claim they have a right to privacy, thus it's unlawful to video record them performing their job in public places.

Yet other states claim there mere act of recording interferes with an officer's job as they protect and serve the community. This logic is used as a basis to instruct individuals to stop recording. If the individual fails to comply, then they have broken the law by refusing to obey.

The legality of such "no record" tactics by law enforcement agencies is currently being debated and applied differently in each state. Many see this as an unwillingness of law enforcement to allow these charges to be tested in the Supreme Court level. Meanwhile, "citizen videos" continue to grow in number with the currently flourishing pervasive cell phone and YouTube culture. Violators often are arrested, only to spend a few nights in jail before the charges are dropped.

There are many reasons why the average law-abiding citizen would want to record any encounter with law enforcement. Traditionally, judges and courts tend to give more judicial credence to an officer's testimony over that of a defendant. With a video recording of the event in question, it no longer becomes a case of witness reliability.

Individuals may wish to record their encounters with police in order to safeguard against potential police brutality or untruthfulness. Citizens may also wish to record police in public to insure the officers are performing their duty professionally and without animus. While many would not fault an officer for using deadly force against a violent suspect, those same people would take issue with an officer tasering an otherwise helpless and compliant suspect.

The last few years have seen a fundamental paradigm shift in the attitudes of both the public and law enforcement agencies alike. It's becoming increasingly common for police to view themselves as paramilitary agencies and citizens as "civilians." The very terminology is revealing. Citizens deserve rights and a presumption of innocence. Civilian is a military term implying the existence of enemy combatants who may be dealt with according to military rules of engagement.

Soldiers do not mirandize or presume potential enemies to be innocent. In fact, many states no longer require mirandizing of suspects. Even the Indiana Supreme Court recently ruled that police can enter a home without requiring a warrant. Anyone living there must allow any officers inside for any reason whatsoever. Can it be long before the distinction between "civilian" and "enemy" becomes a rhetorical question, answered only by one's willingness to obey without question or due process?

Quite a few people feel their individual right to privacy and civil liberties are no longer the primary concern of their government. With the extension of the Patriot Act and the continued blurring between military security and local law enforcement, such fears are not altogether unfounded. The increase of law enforcement powers and decrease of personal privacy is seen by many as a slippery slope towards a "police state" where officers may act capriciously without regard for individual rights.

The new powers and tactics of law enforcement agencies are likely to continue increasing. Citizens are at the mercy of an impersonal bureaucracy built upon wartime paranoia and cutting-edge technologies. While the goal of safety and security are laudable in the extreme, the potential also grows for individual officers or agencies to abuse their newly expanded powers.

Technology professionals will find themselves on the front lines as old laws collide with new technologies. Just as archaic wire-tapping laws are applied to cell phone and video recordings, other laws are mutated for circumstances undreamt of just a few years ago. Consider how First Amendment rights involving free speech have been put to the test by citizen journalists and bloggers. The internet has increasingly blurred the line between journalism and individual free speech.

As a member of the IT industry, you're on the edge of a cultural shockwave of consumer electronics. But knowing the technology is not enough. You must be aware of the social and legal consequences of how this technology is used. New technologies emerge daily that allow incredible intrusions into personal privacy and freedoms. The technology industry itself must make a concerted effort to insure not just the empowerment of a government to defend its citizens, but of the citizens to defend themselves against abuses of power.

The forefathers of the Constitution sought to preserve the right to bear arms as a counter-balance against the possibility of a tyrannical government. Today, such rights are as woefully outdated as laws regarding wire-tapping. We live in a new culture with new potentials and perils. The privacy and personal liberty of everyone is at stake.

It's no longer feasible to expect the government to be held in check by the states with their "armed and well-regulated militias." A new power must be found to preserve the people for the people and by the people. That power is you. As a tech-savvy professional, you are in a profound position to empower yourself and others with knowledge. But more importantly, it is you who has the power to watch the watchmen. Don't let this right slip from your grasp forever. It may be the only right you truly have left.

41 comments
Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

- When your wife's uncle was murdered by the mafia being protected by corrupt FBI agents; and then the FBI conspired to cover that up for decades. - When the Prince George's Country police raided their own mayor's house, terrorized his family, and shot his dogs over a package of pot PLANTED on his doorstep. - When the FBI did a no-knock raid on a guy that had an unsecured wireless network that a neighbor had downloaded child porn through it, and abused him and violated his rights. You either oppose all attempts to gain additional power by the executive branch of the government, or you can and will end up like the Jews, the homosexuals, the Gypsys, and the mentally ill in pre-WWII Germany. People are basically lazy and complacent. With the exception of special causes, if something doesn't effect them directly, they usually don't care what happens to other people.

Dukhalion
Dukhalion

that I don't live in that kind of police state. I am allowed to photograph or video any government official during their work, regardless if it's on my property or not. I feel very sorry for you and the "freedom" you still think you have.

no1kilo
no1kilo

The presumption that when out in public there is a reduced element of privacy expectation that we have to live with and that includes the police. If banks and stores and the police have the right to record and these videos and pictures used as evidence then the average person on the street has the same rights.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

You know, those standardized questionnaires put to Polyps before the elections, so that people can enter their preferences and then the engine suggests matches from the answers? You should get one made to outline the attitude of Polyps to "plebe control". You need to make this an issue, instead of that fake tea party distraction, what a load of bread and circus that is! Make it real, people!

sboverie
sboverie

I think it was the Rodney King beating that started people recording the police in action. I do find it confusing that the police would restrict the use of phone cameras recording their actions; this is more the act of a criminal than police. I think that we have the right to record the actions of the police and criminals in public. This is more as a witness with good corroboration of facts through the use of video. As long as the people recording an incident do not interfere with the police or make comments to the police, there should be no restriction of recording. If citizens or civilians can not record the actions of the representitives of the government, then this would be a loss of a way to keep those in power to be held responsible and accountable for their actions.

joshs
joshs

If law enforcement succeeds in making this law - I see a peaceful public rebellion of individuals recording EVERY action an officer does and posting the information EVERYWHERE. Which is worse - a snotty civilian recording a routine traffic stop or thousands of video recorder armed citizens holding public servants accountable to every action they do? I support Law Enforcement and respect what they do. But the recent stories out of San Francisco illustrate that cops are fallible just like any human. The best solution is accountability. Do you think the cop who shot the kid on the Bay Area BART station platform recently would have been convicted if there wasn't actual video evidence of the mistake? No - he and his buddies would have made up a tale of the kid (face down with hands at sides) was making a "threatening" move.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Police brutality! Help help, I'm being oppressed! ;) But seriously, you need to stop that stuff. The police need to follow stricter rules than normal people, after all, they have greater responsibilities. If a cop is DUI, should being a cop be a reason for lenience? Hell no. It's ironic, it seems you need to push to have video cameras and blogging equipment classified as "arms" in order to save yourself from your protectors. Godspeed!

RNR1995
RNR1995

If they have a camera on their car I can have one in my hand The abuses of Government must stop now! Stand up for your rights, call your local news when they are abused When enough of us scream, someone should listen or get out of office They are PUBLIC servants, that are too busy serving themselves WAKE UP USA! Read the Constitution, Understand it So many laws are on the books now that violate it, but those in power determine they do not!

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

On a personal note, last I checked a week or so ago, New Hampshire requires the consent of the officer to record. Simple solution is immediately on being confronted by the officer is to turn on the recorder, and the first words out of your mouth are, "Sir, I am recording our conversation for both our protection." Any good cop will acknowledge that he heard you and will continue on with his official business. Any cop that objects will have proven himself or herself to be corrupt and about to act in an unlawful manner. My suggestion is to immediately hit 911 on your phone. It will identify the number and where you are, and record whatever comes over; and that is totally legal. Then, if it is for a traffic stop, immediately pull away and head for the nearest police station, or large public gathering. There is a downside to recording the encounter. Where you might have gotten off with just a warning, you'll be more likely to buy a ticket or an arrest if you actually committed an infraction of some kind. Cops have to prove they are doing their jobs, and the current environment pushes them to being tough on crime where people are watching. Personally, I feel the only good corrupt cop is a dead one. People who would abuse that kind of authority not only shouldn't have it, they don't belong in society period.

Get-Smart
Get-Smart

Criminalizing videos of public servants is itself criminal. America was founded on a principle that individuals should be protected from government abuses and the video ban undermines it. I can completely support that police officers, [i]off duty and as individuals[/i], should be protected through "two-party consent" laws; but, on duty and in their capacity as government agents, they should not be. In court, the laws already favor law officers, often to the detriment of the citizen. Individuals must retain the right to defend themselves.

john.a.wills
john.a.wills

Criminals don't want to be filmed in action. The police in general are not criminals, but, like doctors and teachers, they gang together to protect the corrupt among them. And, in California at least, the D.A. is very reluctant to prosecute the bent cops. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the police have powerful trade unions, and the D.A. wants to get re-elected. Secondly, an undercurrent of police corruption yields a flow of easy frame-ups for the D.A. to take part in; and in the U.S. one cannot sue the D.A. for attempting a frame-up, so the temptation to frame is quite strong.

JamesRL
JamesRL

This is one of those things that makes me shake my head. First off, this isn't a legal issue in Canada. No one has attempted to create such a law, and it would probably end up at the supreme court if they tried. We did have an issue at the recent G20 summit, where people photographed police beating protesters. Some photgraphers, even those wearing press badges were beaten as well, and its been difficult to procesecute as the police were in riot gear, and some obscured their badge numbers with black tape (which is illegal). But fundamentally, the principles of justice would say that the ordinary citizen should have the same rights as the police to film an event, in a public place. Police routinely have video cameras in cars, and those videos can be entered into evidence. If the citizen is filming the police in a public place, or in their own home, they too should be able to use that video as evidence. In fact I'd suggest that in some circumstances, the citizens should be able to supeona a police car cam footage, and perhaps the police should be able to do the same if a citizen is filming. As an amateur photographer, I'm aware of the laws of taking pictures, and in general in most jurisdictions, anything in public is fair game. You don't need anyone's permission to take their picture. If you end up selling those images for commercial purposes you may need a model release. This right has been tested in courts in many democratic countries. So why do police officers feel they are above that law? Yet since 9/11, people in many of these same democratic countries get arrested for taking pictures of police, or taking pictures of public buildings. The charges are almost always dropped, but the number of incidents shows we should perhaps consider arresting without due cause to be harassment.

bboyd
bboyd

When our police migrated from peace officers to law enforcement officers the war was lost. I find that most local police have become an income stream for their governments. Any officer serving their community should be proud to be recorded. The actions should be admirable and engender public support. When they believe your just a potential perpetrator then everyone is not worth earning admiration. Thankfully these laws fail at first application of higher courts. Now people just need to get the courage to take them to the higher court. That they don't justifies the police tactics and misguided laws.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

We should have the right to video tape openly in public and in our own private spaces. For example, a Police officer entering a house without warrant. The owner needs the right to video tape this unconstitutional act to prove what happened to them and to keep the officers moral. Police are human beings and are not more lawful or rightous than anyone else. For Police to resist documentation allows them to act in secret. They are public employees. We own them. The are here to serve us. When a Police officer steps outside in uniform they give up their citizen rights and become a public servant who is subject to scrutiny. What ever happened to CopWatch?

toddfluhr
toddfluhr

I followed the Maryland case: here's a video link for anyone interested: http://youtu.be/B9Com08ILgQ Re raids on innocent victims of open networks..... they tend to get blamed for being dumb enough to have unsecured networks. We live in a time of witch hunts and American Polizeistaat.

toddfluhr
toddfluhr

Sometimes I feel such extremes in rhetoric do more damage than good for their arguments.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

And all because he can't tell the difference between an admiralty ensign and a ceremonial flag.

toddfluhr
toddfluhr

.... and we have so very few freedoms left to lose.

toddfluhr
toddfluhr

If we did have the right to record, people wouldn't be going to jail over this issue.

toddfluhr
toddfluhr

The only way the general public will care about this is if their "world's dumbest criminal" TV shows get cancelled due to lack of footage.

toddfluhr
toddfluhr

cameras seem to be our last resort to hold law enforcement accountable.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

it already happened. The law exists, in many states, as the word stands.

toddfluhr
toddfluhr

Here's how it will play out: You say, "Officer, I am recording our conversation for both our protection." Officer: "I don't give my consent. You are now and have been illegally recording me. Down on the ground, punk! Now!" You have now added an additional charge of wire-tapping, disobeying an officer, and interfering with an officer in the course of his duty. If during a routine traffic stop you attempt to reach a public location or police station, you have just attempted to elude police. Yet more charges await you at your destination, assuming you make it past the police spikes and chase. These aren't corrupt cops: they are exercising the powers endorsed and given by our government. It's us who are the outlaws, by disobeying and recording the police.

toddfluhr
toddfluhr

The problem here is that "legal" is not based on ethical or moral propriety, but rather the definition as established by State and Federal law. For example, once here in the US slavery was legal. Barring women from voting was legal. Many unjust things have been "legal" in the past, just as many "freedoms" are illegal now Where does personal freedom end and the government's power begin? There are laws against smoking in open-air public parks or saying offensive things. Our own government engages in wars and actions once considered "illegal" under our own laws of Congressional oversight. "Legal" once had an implication of personal liberty and pursuit of happiness, even at the expense of government power. Now "Legal" seems only defined as the control we give the government to limit our personal freedoms. It's as if we've decided freedom itself equals illegal behavior to be curtailed at all costs.

toddfluhr
toddfluhr

But does the corruption stop at the law enforcement level, or extend into a government willing to exploit it for further income streams and increased power?

info
info

I can laugh at what the US has become. "Land of the Free", my arse! Canada is actually WORSE in some respects, though. Our laws are more 'open' when it comes to interpretation and enforcement. Common sense is treated as a given from both sides of the law. The only problem is that it ISN'T always. Just look at the G20 incidents that you mentioned. It was a flagrant abuse of police power. What about the new 'Stunt Driving' law? An officer has the power to impound your license and your car ON THE SPOT for a week if they deem fit. Good laws when viewed with common sense, but WAY open for abuse. Police don't feel like they're only above your photography law. EVERY law doesn't apply to them in their minds. They feel they're automatically better than you. This doesn't apply to the majority. For now. Under our 'New Regime' government, this will only get worse. The Supreme Court directives need not apply if the government suddenly feels it needs to do something. And they protect their own...

toddfluhr
toddfluhr

Canada has many advantages over the US. One of which is the absence of our Republican and Democrat "polititainment" system of government. Regarding "public" photography here in the US: there are an incredible growing number of cases where individuals have been harassed by law enforcement for photography or recording of anything involving public transportation, airports, train stations, and routine police actions. Just taking pictures of your family on the steps of the courthouse or national monument is considered an offense.

toddfluhr
toddfluhr

You make several excellent points. Several officers have come forward as "whistle blowers" regarding secret "quotas" and ticket-fine achievement amounts required by their departments. But these are only the tools of local governments who seek any means possible to increase their cash flow. From increased fines for innocuous offenses to governments abuse of eminent domain to seize properties for better income-generating entertainment / business / tourism development, the erosion of personal rights continues. It's all about money. Regarding the recording of police, well, it's such a self-evident argument that they should be subject to recording as public servants that the subject almost seems ridiculous. But as more and more people are prosecuted for recording the police, it becomes a serious issue. Even more so, that the government itself is rushing to find ways to make recording its law enforcement activities illegal is very disturbing.

toddfluhr
toddfluhr

I absolutely agree with your comments. The problem is that most local and federal agencies don't. Those members of the public who do address this issue are seen as radical activists or anti-government wingnuts. It really is our obligation to elevate the level of discussion of this subject above that perception. At the very least this may have a chilling effect on many tech industries as new products and services become the lynch pin of political controversy. At worst imagine how an IT or techie's life may be impacted if they found all their personal computers and electronics seized by cops for the mere act of recording a traffic stop. This has already happened and more frequently than you might imagine.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

repeal the patriot act... repeal the patriot act... repeal the patriot act... Are we back in kansas yet? No? Damn!

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

that's quite a quilt of lost causes, like a national conscience with the memory of an Oliphant (that'd be one who shows the few). But what's he on about? Where are such flags used?

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

by complying 100% with law enforcement they are ensuring that they will be duly charged with everything they are guilty of. And no honest person can have a problem with that. So obviously any person trying to get the protection of public oversight or documentation of events [b]must[/b] be guilty, now it only remains to find out: of what?! What shall we try first, waterboarding?

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I wouldn't expect the scenario you describe without at least one or two refusals on the part of the individual with the camera. As for the adversarial viewpoint on both sides, I think that started developing in the 60s with the distrust of authority by the hippies and the dying off of foot patrols. It reached full growth and got legs in August 1968 in Chicago, and neither side has done much to improve the matter since then. It may be too late, but I think foot patrols should come back; it's extremely difficult to see somebody as less than human when you've chatted with them from the sidewalk or your front stoop.

toddfluhr
toddfluhr

But the Oceanian province of Airstrip One

toddfluhr
toddfluhr

I wonder if there were subliminal messages there?

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

after all, a healthy chunk of officers of all colors are predisposed to target certain ethnicities over others for random checks... So, what came first? And how far do we have to back? If we go a hundred years back, was it different?

toddfluhr
toddfluhr

This is a tangled issue because we aspire to freedom and a presumption of innocence, BUT, there are large demographics who seem predisposed towards violence and criminal activity. How does an officer maintain a professional respect for the people on the street, when an active percentage of those people may be predisposed towards shooting cops?

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

if you fit the wrong profile you may find that refusal isn't even an option.