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Big Brother Strikes Back

Many people feared digital technologies, especially the omnipresence of video cameras.  Remembering the Cliff Notes of 1984, they screamed, "Big Brother is watching!"  Yet videos actually worked to the benefit of the citizenry.  

Most of us have nothing to fear from surveillance.  Your life isn't interesting.  Government agents are not watching you masturbate in the bathroom.  Nobody cares.  

Occasionally, though, videos can offer you freedom.  There are now hundreds of cases of document police misconduct, and dozens of cases where videos provided an alibi to a criminal defendant.  Remember the Duke Lacrosse case?  One of the defendants was saved by an ATM video that established that he could not have been present when the (non) rape occurred.  

Citizen journalist, too, have become a sort of Little Brother.  Everyone with a camera is tape recording arrests.  In many cases (as with the recent New York Jets fan arrest), the videos show evidence of an unlawful arrest.  

The government, unfortunately, is fighting against transparency.  Big Brother wants its cameras back:

Simon Glik, a lawyer, was walking down Tremont Street in Boston when he saw three police officers struggling to extract a plastic bag from a teenager’s mouth. Thinking their force seemed excessive for a drug arrest, Glik pulled out his cellphone and began recording.

Within minutes, Glik said, he was in handcuffs.

“One of the officers asked me whether my phone had audio recording capabilities,’’ Glik, 33, said recently of the incident, which took place in October 2007. Glik acknowledged that it did, and then, he said, “my phone was seized, and I was arrested.’’

The arrest is an abuse of police discretion.  Just because you can arrest someone doesn't mean you should.  It's clear that the police were not concerned with wiretapping qua wiretapping, but instead retaliated against the young lawyer for documenting police abuse.

Currently there is no First Amendment news gathering exception to wiretapping laws.  Thus, depending upon how Massachusetts' wiretapping law reads, the arrest will likely be upheld.

Judges should wonder, though, why police are so afraid of video cameras.  These same judges, your honor, appear in your courtroom each day.  You credit everything they testify about.  

Why are police officers terrified of cameras?  As police say: Privacy is for people with something to hide.  What, then, are police officers trying to hide?

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