Photo courtesy of ABC News©
We don’t talk much about politics here at Gear Diary. It’s not our thing. We’re geeks and nerds here, not PoliSci majors. We like to talk about the positive side of tech.
But every once in a while, tech news and politics do bleed into each other. One of the classics is Net Neutrality, of course. Gizmodo being raided by the police for purchasing an allegedly stolen device. Early in my career, encryption software being treated as equivalent to a munition was a hot topic. You get the idea.
Since 9/11, a lot of the civil liberties that we all take for granted have been abrogated. For example, you may think that you have the right to habeas corpus–i.e., to demand an arresting officer or representative of the state present you with evidence of your crime in a court of law–but if the state determines, in public or secret, that you are a “terrorist”, you don’t; they can lock you away without rights, a lawyer, or anything. Same thing with wiretapping–used to be, they needed a warrant issued by a judge. Now, they just need to decide that you’re a “terrorist threat,” and they can tap your phone and computer lines to their hearts’ content. There’s no question that I find this scary.
One of the objections that a lot of “squishy liberals” had about the government moving in this direction was that it would trickle down to local law enforcement, and effect them in a negative way. And indeed it has, if reports are to be believed. For example, the blogger digby has recorded instance after instance of the police tasering people who were no threat whatsoever (including many deaths from this “non-lethal” weapon).
A well-known recent incident was that of a young man in Oakland who was helpless on the ground, with a policeman’s foot on his neck, who was shot in the back and killed. The list goes on.
Now ABC news is reporting yet another disturbing trend, this one directly related to the geek world.
Everyone knows these days that you can photograph or video most anything with your phone. If you’re someplace where something unusual is happening, you’ll see at least one or two people holding up their phones, snapping photos or recording events. And apparently, the police have decided that they don’t like that very much. ABC reports:
That Anthony Graber broke the law in early March is indisputable. He raced his Honda motorcycle down Interstate 95 in Maryland at 80 mph, popping a wheelie, roaring past cars and swerving across traffic lanes.
But it wasn’t his daredevil stunt that has the 25-year-old staff sergeant for the Maryland Air National Guard facing the possibility of 16 years in prison. For that, he was issued a speeding ticket. It was the video that Graber posted on YouTube one week later — taken with his helmet camera — of a plainclothes state trooper cutting him off and drawing a gun during the traffic stop near Baltimore.
In early April, state police officers raided Graber’s parents’ home in Abingdon, Md. They confiscated his camera, computers and external hard drives. Graber was indicted for allegedly violating state wiretap laws by recording the trooper without his consent.
Arrests such as Graber’s are becoming more common along with the proliferation of portable video cameras and cell-phone recorders. Videos of alleged police misconduct have become hot items on the Internet. YouTube still features Graber’s encounter along with numerous other witness videos. “The message is clearly, ‘Don’t criticize the police,'” said David Rocah, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Marylandwho is part of Graber’s defense team. “With these charges, anyone who would even think to record the police is now justifiably in fear that they will also be criminally charged.”
Carlos Miller, a Miami journalist who runs the blog “Photography Is Not a Crime,” said he has documented about 10 arrests since he started keeping track in 2007. Miller himself has been arrested twice for photographing the police. He won one case on appeal, he said, while the other was thrown out after the officer twice failed to appear in court.
Now, this particular Gear Diary writer finds this both horrifying and chilling–you video a police officer, and they can ship you off to the Big House. This is the land of the First Amendment? This is the country of accountability and government and law-enforcement transparency? No, it most certainly is not.
I don’t have any brilliant suggestions for folks, but be alert. Is your town or municipality one of those that either has a law like this on the books, or is considering implementing it? Fight it. Go to those insanely-boring city and town council meetings and protest. Sign on to protest petitions. Let your local politicians know that you think this is bogus, unConstitutional, and unAmerican.
This is how police states come about, folks. Let’s not let it happen.