Videotaping of Police Activity Ruled Legal
A state court judge in Maryland has thrown out charges against a motorist for videotaping a police officer during a traffic stop, according to The Baltimore Sun. The judge said that as public officials, police have no reasonable expectation of privacy while carrying out their duty.
Motorcyclist Anthony Graber had been charged with violating Maryland’s wiretapping laws last spring after he used a helmet-mounted camera to tape his encounter with a state patrolman. Graber had the camera running as he sped along I-95, and kept it rolling as a plainclothes police officer eventually caught up with him and ordered him off the motorcycle at gunpoint. The police officer didn’t know he was being taped.
Graber was arrested for violating wiretap laws shortly after he posted the video of the incident on YouTube. When he was arrested, police raided his house and seized his cameras and computer gear.
Wiretapping laws are intended to protect privacy by preventing anyone from eavesdropping on or recording conversations without the knowledge of one or both parties. In many states, including Maryland, both parties must be aware that their conversation is being taped. But the judge in the Graber case said that a police stop is not a private conversation, so it isn’t covered by the state’s wiretapping laws.
The outcome of the Graber case has been watched closely by journalists and First Amendment advocates as a test of the power of police to prevent scrutiny of their activities. Police have tried to use wiretapping laws in several other jurisdictions, although the Graber ruling doesn’t apply outside Maryland.