Filming police officers in public is not an illegal offense, US courts have declared, a decision which has cost the city of Boston $170,000.
When Simon Glik witnessed on-duty officers using what he believed to be excessive force while arresting a man in Boston Commons in 2007, he took out his cell phone to record the incident. The officers then retaliated against Glik by arresting him on charges of illegal wiretapping.
In August of 2011, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the First Amendment protects a citizen’s right to openly record police in public places. The judges dismissed the charges of violating wiretap laws, disturbing the peace and aiding in the escape of a prisoner. (To be clear: the man who Glik filmed being arrested did not escape.) In addition to finding the case in violation of the First Amendment, the judges also cited a breach of the Fourth Amendment for a false arrest.
Evidently, the police targeted the wrong man. Glik, who is a criminal defense attorney, knew his rights were violated, and brought a civil rights suit against the city of Boston to the U.S. District Court. Now the Court has awarded Glik $170,000, and helped to establish a precedent on an issue that will increasingly become relevant, particularly as technology advances and a growing number of civilians have easy access to recording devices on their phones.
Similar cases of civilians being arrested for recording police officers are springing up everywhere, including Minnesota, Richmond, Baltimore and Seattle. Participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement have been especially resourceful in using new technologies to record perceived abuses of police power and view it as one of their best lines of defense.
As a result, citizens with cameras allege that the police are targeting them. Miami resident Carlos Miller found himself in similar trouble after recording police. “If you’re going to arrest me for doing nothing, fair enough, that’s your stupidity,” Miller says. “But to delete my images, that shows that they were afraid of my footage getting out. That’s totally illegal.”
An influx of incidents like these is the main reason that Reporters Without Borders recently dropped the United States down 27 notches in its annual Press Freedom Index.
As for the Boston cast specifically, the Internal Affairs Division has disciplined the officers for the unlawful arrest of Glik. Elaine Driscoll, a spokesperson for the Boston Police Department, assures that the force is addressing this issue to prevent similar incidents. According to Driscoll, the force is revising police academy curriculum and holding training sessions for existing officers to prevent further misunderstanding of wiretap laws.
Photo Credit: A Gude