The First Circuit Court of Appeals reached a crucial decision last Friday allowing the public to videotape police officers while they're on the clock.There is really not much argument available for the police that private citizens filming them in their official duties somehow keeps them from performing them, especially given the pure number of TV shows* where full television crews ride along on beats and even raids. The best they can do is claim that recording is "wiretapping" or "evesdropping**," the latter of which implies that citizens do not even have the right to look at police in their duties. The fact that all but a very few of these cases have not just been thrown out of court but laughed out ought to say something about the issues at had.
The decision comes after a string of incidents where individuals have videotaped police officers and were arrested. Police officers across the United States believed citizens didn't have the right to videotape them as they conducted official duties, but issues like police brutality put the issue up for debate.
The police don't like people watching and recording them. I understand that. I also truly do not care. I am not the slightest bit sympathetic to the argument that it's somehow not fair to them, or that people with cameras look like people with guns. Police officers have no right to privacy when they put on the uniform of the state***. They are watchers who need to be watched, period****.
The First Circuit court was certainly correct when they concluded, "Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting "the free discussion of governmental affairs." The only danger I see is that there is not an explicit right to make such a recording - that means the Supremes could still find a compelling government interest in ensuring that people only see the Protection and Service the state wants them to see.
I don't expect the Supremes to find that, though I do expect a number of attorneys general to argue that, especially those from Illinois and Maryland, where state laws specifically ban recording of anyone without consent. So while celebration is in order, it's just a touchdown, not a Super Bowl ring.
* True story: one of my foster kids saw a commercial for one of those shows and then told me, proud as a peacock, "Hey, my dad was on Cops!" Swear to God.
** Honest, Mr. Gandalf, I wasn't dropping no eves.
*** Or when acting as agents of the state in plain clothes.
**** Saying, "period" and following it with a period makes any assertion true. It's double-true if "period" is a sentence all its own, but I'm not confident enough to write it that way.