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Supreme Court rules unanimously in GPS case

A recent case highlighted new challenges for privacy in the modern world. Cops placed a GPS tracker on the car of a criminal suspect without getting a warrant. Fortunately, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld a lower court decision that ruled that this was a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution which prevents unreasonable searches without a warrant.

The court, however, declined to go further. Issues on other types of electronic surveillance will be left to another day.

Appeals court says you can film and record police officers

This is a great ruling, and not really unexpected. It’s outrageous that cops tried to prevent citizens from recording them:

We’ve had a lot of stories this year about police arresting people for filming them. It’s become quite a trend. Even worse, a couple weeks ago, we wrote about a police officer in Massachusetts, Michael Sedergren, who is trying to get criminal wiretapping charges brought against a woman who filmed some police officers beating a guy. This officer claims that the woman violated Massachusetts anti-wiretapping law, a common claim from police in such situations.

Segederin may have been better off if he’d waited a couple weeks for an appeals court ruling that came out Friday, because that ruling found that arresting someone for filming the police is a clear violation of both the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. How the case got to this point is a bit complex, but basically, a guy named Simon Glik saw some police arresting someone in Boston, and thought they were using excessive force. He took out his camera phone and began recording. The police saw that and told him to stop taking pictures. He told them he was recording them, and that he’d seen them punch the guy they were arresting. One officer asked him if the phone recorded audio as well and Glik told him it did. At that point, they arrested him, saying that recording audio was a violation of Massachusetts wiretap laws.

Even more ridiculous, they then had him charged not just with that, but also with disturbing the peace and “aiding in the escape of a prisoner.” After realizing that last one didn’t even pass the guffaw test, Massachusetts officials dropped that charge. A Boston court then dumped the other charges and Glik was free. However, he wanted to take things further, as he thought his treatment was against the law. He first filed a complaint with Boston Police Internal Affairs who promptly set about totally ignoring it. After they refused to investigate, Glik sued the officers who arrested him and the City of Boston in federal court for violating both his First and Fourth Amendment rights. The police officers filed for qualified immunity, which is designed to protect them from frivolous charges from people they arrest.

The district court rejected the officers’ rights to qualified immunity, saying that their actions violated the First & Fourth Amendments. Before the rest of the case could go on, the officers appealed, and that brings us to Friday’s ruling, which, once again, unequivocally states that recording police in public is protected under the First Amendment, and that the use of Massachusetts wiretapping laws to arrest Glik was a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights as well. The ruling (pdf) is a fantastic and quick read and makes the point pretty clearly. Best of all, it not only says that it was a clear violation, but that the officers were basically full of it in suggesting that this was even in question. The court more or less slams the officers for pretending they had a valid excuse to harass a guy who filmed them arresting someone.

Read the rest of the post at Tech Dirt which also links to the opinion.

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