Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Do public servants have right to privacy?

A conversation I saw on Twitter pointed me to an article on reason.com titled, "The War on Cameras" about the right of citizens to record public officials. Thanks @mckeay & @georgevhulme, this is better than what I had planned. :)

The article talks mostly about citizens recording police officers, but the first case involving a man in Illinois actually involved a judge. Michael Allison was cited for violating the towns eyesore ordinance. The day before the trial he went to the courthouse to request a court reporter because he wanted a record of what went on for a lawsuit he was planning. He told the court clerk that if a court reporter wasn't there he would record the trial himself, and showed her his digital recorder. He was refused a court reporter. When he appeared before the judge the next day the judge asked if he had a recorder in his pocket and if it was on. Mr. Allison answered yes to both questions. The judge informed him that that he (Allison) had broken Illinois wiretapping law and violated his (the judges) right to privacy. Despite the fact that he had not been informed of the law the day before, only had the recorder because a court reporter wasn't provided, and had no prior criminal record he was charged with five counts of wiretapping (15 years each if convicted) and had bail set at $35,000.

How much privacy can a judge expect while performing his duties in the courtroom? How much privacy can a police officer expect during a traffic stop? Anthony Graber recorded an officer who stopped him and was arrested for posting the video on youtube. The charges were evenually dropped.

In their private lives officials have the same privacy rights as we do. But often in the performance of their duties their privacy right will be much more limited. Police have the right to privacy when interrogating suspects. Judges have the right to limit or deny cameras in the court room. But that doesn't give them a right to "privacy" in the court room. There can be hundreds of people in the court. There often will be a court reporter. There may not be cameras, but there still won't be privacy. An officer writing a ticket on the side of a public highway can't expect any type of privacy. Everybody and their dog can see what's going on. And citizens should be totally able to monitor on-duty police if they can do it without interfering in the policemans performing of his/her duties.