Courts refuse to prohibit recording E-mail
Odds are we'll see a lot more of these cases in the near future. According to an article in the Baltimore Sun Herald, the Mississippi House of Representatives recently passed a bill that clarifies the public's right to record law enforcement officers while they work.

The bill passed by the slightest of margins and the author of the legislation says he expects it to be dead on arrival in the state senate.

State Representative Bob Evans authored House Bill 168, which recently passed the House.

Evans is a lawyer and says he's represented clients arrested for recording officers. He says there has been some resistance from law enforcement groups that oppose the measure.

Evans, like a lot of libertarians, says he believes citizens have a constitutional right to record the officers while they work as long as the recording doesn't endanger the public or law enforcement personnel.

Last year, the exact same bill passed the House in an 80-39 vote, but quietly died in the Senate. Evans says he expects the same thing to happen this time around.
"If it even gets out of committee over there, I'll be surprised," Evans said.

Evans' bill would allow cameras, film and other recording devices to be used while uniformed officers, including police, firefighters, game wardens or other conservation officials are performing duties related to their office, as long as the person filming doesn't interfere.

It also prohibits the state from passing any rule to infringe on those rights. Evans says that he believes most videotapes made by citizens would help law enforcement officials, especially if they're wrongfully accused.

Bear Atwood, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, has said the ACLU hasn't taken a position on Evans' bill due to the fact that the right of citizens to record public officials in the course of their duties is already protected under the U.S. Constitution. Evans' bill could eliminate the wasteful spending from lawsuits and settlements by preventing arrests, seizures and court cases that stem from police confiscating cell phones or camcorders, only to be forced by courts to return the devices as well as the cost of settling the cases. Atlanta, Georgia just paid out $44,000 to a man whose phone was confiscated as he was filming a local drug raid on his cell phone.

Due to the proliferation of cell-phone cameras and other recording devices, cases where citizens' rights to record police are at issue have exploded in numbers. Last month, a Tarpon Springs, Fla., college student was arrested for taping police activities in addition to several other cases where civilians have recorded police. Many of the state laws that cover this area were written before cell phones were even thought possible. In what are known as "two-party" states like Massachusetts, individuals can be charged with wiretapping offenses if they record another party without their permission, as that would violate the privacy rights of those being recorded without their knowledge.

Whether or not courts nationwide will reason that police in the field have the same right to privacy as a homeowner whose phone was surreptitiously tapped remains an open question.

Illinois makes taping an officer without their permission a class 1 felony that could land someone in jail for up to 15 years. Two individuals will stand trial in Illinois on those charges this year in a case that could be significant nationwide.

In the Illinois case, Christopher Drew recorded his encounter with Chicago police after being arrested for selling art without a permit.


In another case, Tiawanda Moore recorded Chicago police internal-affairs investigators while she tried to file a sexual-harassment complaint against a police officer and faced what she said was massive hostility and resistance from agency personnel.

Evans said there is still plenty of confusion among law enforcement officers in Mississippi about the issue and that his bill would "codify it so it will take away all questions."

 


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