Shooting Cellphone Video is Not a Felony (in Illinois)

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Cops Continue to Stop Videorecording

The decision doesn't help anyone outside of Illinois – and may not help anyone in Illinois if prosecutors appeal Drew's case to the Illinois Supreme Court and it overturns Sacks' decision.

It does help define the difference between recording a public event – using cell-phone video cams and audio recording as in these cases in Boston, Oregon, Rochester, NY and an increasingly long list of other places in which police have decided the act of recording them pursuing felons should itself be a felony.

It may interrupt the plans of Chicago police, who have warned they will arrest anyone videotaping or audio-recording their efforts at crowd control, arrests and confrontations with protesters during the G-8 Economic Summit in Chicago May 15-22. (Protesters are gearing up to make an event of it.)

Sacks' decision isn't the first to remind police that what they do in public is allowed to be viewed by the public.

A federal circuit judge in Boston reached a similar conclusion in August absolving a Boston lawyer of the crime of using his cell phone to videorecord an arrest on Boston Common. (The suit and publicity surrounding it didn't stop Boston police from arresting someone else for the same thing in 2009.)

The American Civil Liberties Union has also made censorship-by-arrest a civil rights issue it will pursue in court.

It's obvious cops don't want to be videotaped while they try to do their jobs, and it's hard not to sympathise to some extent. No one wants to be nitpicked to death by strangers while trying to do a difficult job against spirited opposition.

It's also obvious that the First Amendment was written specifically for situations like this one – when public officials want to silence or punish those who could hold them accountable to courts and the public to which they should be held accountable.

The opposition from cops is not because they think the law or someone else's rights are being violated. It comes from a deep desire to keep anyone but themselves from documenting the process they use to do their jobs.

Accurate Recordings Deflate as Many Accusations as they Support

It's a traditional right of police. They don't have to write down every single thing that happens, so the things that don't contribute to their view of a situation never make it into official notes.

When every member of the public is a potential video-recording YouTube-posting, rabble-rousing photojournalist, that makes every member of the public a danger to police. Not a physical danger a gun would help address, danger to the reputation and career, which only bluster, censorship and the unjust use of power can control.

Unfortunately for the minority of control-freak cops, there are a lot more video-enabled cell phones out there than there are police to arrest them, and the video recorders have the law on their side.

Chicago Superintendent of Police Garry McCarthy is one of the cops who actually understands both the civil rights involved and the way video can be used or abused.

He told the Chicago Sun-Times the silence-the-public aspect of the Illinois Eavesdropping Statute is "a foreign concept" to U.S. laws and law enforcers. More recordings of police doing their jobs will actually help police that do their jobs well by preventing or deflating accusations of misconduct that are more emotion than fact.

I just hope more senior-level police understand that concept and evangelize it to cops on the street.

It would help them stop worrying about who's watching and just focus on doing their jobs.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

This story, "Shooting Cellphone Video is Not a Felony (in Illinois)" was originally published by ITworld.

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