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Boston admits it: Cell phone photography is not a crime
 
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30-Mar-2012  
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The City of Boston tacitly acknowledged today that arresting a man for recording a police officer in public may not exactly have been the wisest -- or most constitutional -- choice.

That acknowledgement comes in the form of a $170,000 payment to Simon Glik, a Boston attorney who was prosecuted under criminal wiretap laws for using his cell phone to record police arresting someone on the Boston Common. They prosecuted the wrong fellow: Glik himself specializes in criminal defense.

A spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department told CNET this afternoon that the city has taken steps to ensure arrests-for-recording don't happen again. That includes "conducting training sessions for all department officers regarding the state wiretap statute," including updating the curriculum at the police academy, and publishing multiple training bulletins for officers, Elaine Driscoll said.

Even though Boston has learned an expensive lesson in constitutional law, other police departments have not: As cameras have become embedded in more consumer electronic devices, more Americans are finding themselves in legal jeopardy for digital snapshotting that's likely protected by the First Amendment. Embedded eyeglasses cams like the ones from ZionEyez (available for pre-order for $200) promise to accelerate developments.

The list of camera-shy police departments is a lengthy one. Seattle police arrested a man who photographed an arrest. So did Minnesota police. And Miami police. And Baltimore police. And Richmond police. And Rochester police. And so on.

In January, the National Press Photographers Association labeled the prosecutions an "ongoing assault on the right to photograph [and] record in public." This trend, accelerated by citizen-videography related to the Occupy protests, is one reason the United States dropped so precipitously, from 20th place to 47th, in the most recent rankings of media freedom compiled by the Reporters Without Borders advocacy group. It's even led to a blog titled Photography is Not a Crime, written by Carlos Miller, who can claim to have been arrested three times for photographing cops.

From law enforcement's perspective, the technological advance that gave rise to low-cost video recording and even lower-cost Internet distribution can cause some problems. It can prompt retaliation against officers. It can reveal the identities of undercover cops or confidential informants.

But cameras can also highlight police wrongdoing -- as the death of Oscar Grant and the beating of Rodney King demonstrated -- and provide a useful check on law enforcement's version of events. More to the point, "wiretap" laws weren't intended to apply to public confrontations, and if they did, they would likely run afoul of the First Amendment's right to freedom of speech.

"Updates in technology frequently present new circumstances for officers," says Driscoll, the Boston police spokeswoman. "We strive to keep our officers informed and updated to assist them in addressing new issues."

Adding extra impetus to Boston's training regimen was a ruling last August in the Glik case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Glik filed suit after being charged with violation of Massachusetts' wiretap statute, disturbing the peace, and aiding in the escape of a prisoner (the original fellow being arrested by police, who did not actually escape).

Glik said he made the recording because he believed excessive force had been used during the arrest. Eventually, prosecutors dismissed the charge of aiding in the escape. Only after the case went to court did they abandon the other charges; Glik responded filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging, among other things, First Amendment violations.

The First Circuit sided with Glik, saying that "numerous circuit and district courts" have reached similar conclusions and that the First Amendment's newsgathering protections apply beyond traditional media organizations:
 
 
 
Source: cnet.com
 
 

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