Recording the Police

I’ve written a lot on the “War on Photography,” where normal people are harassed as potential terrorists for taking pictures of things in public. This article is different; it’s about recording the police:

Allison’s predicament is an extreme example of a growing and disturbing trend. As citizens increase their scrutiny of law enforcement officials through technologies such as cell phones, miniature cameras, and devices that wirelessly connect to video-sharing sites such as YouTube and LiveLeak, the cops are increasingly fighting back with force and even jail time—and not just in Illinois. Police across the country are using decades-old wiretapping statutes that did not anticipate iPhones or Droids, combined with broadly written laws against obstructing or interfering with law enforcement, to arrest people who point microphones or video cameras at them. Even in the wake of gross injustices, state legislatures have largely neglected the issue. Meanwhile, technology is enabling the kind of widely distributed citizen documentation that until recently only spy novelists dreamed of. The result is a legal mess of outdated, loosely interpreted statutes and piecemeal court opinions that leave both cops and citizens unsure of when recording becomes a crime.

This is all important. Being able to record the police is one of the best ways to ensure that the police are held accountable for their actions. Privacy has to be viewed in the context of relative power. For example, the government has a lot more power than the people. So privacy for the government increases their power and increases the power imbalance between government and the people; it decreases liberty. Forced openness in government—open government laws, Freedom of Information Act filings, the recording of police officers and other government officials, WikiLeaks—reduces the power imbalance between government and the people, and increases liberty.

Privacy for the people increases their power. It also increases liberty, because it reduces the power imbalance between government and the people. Forced openness in the people—NSA monitoring of everyone’s phone calls and e-mails, the DOJ monitoring everyone’s credit card transactions, surveillance cameras—decreases liberty.

I think we need a law that explicitly makes it legal for people to record government officials when they are interacting with them in their official capacity. And this is doubly true for police officers and other law enforcement officials.

EDITED TO ADD: Anthony Graber, the Maryland motorcyclist in the article, had all the wiretapping charges cleared.

Posted on December 21, 2010 at 1:39 PM149 Comments


hsweeney December 21, 2010 2:05 PM

Any law should provide penalties for law enforcement who exceed their authority. Dismissal, jail time, etc… or else it’s worthless because police, etc… won’t care about an administraive knuckle rap!

Alex December 21, 2010 2:10 PM

Although I agree in theory, any law would have to be carefully worded. Most law enforcement officers I’ve spoken to are just fine with being recorded so long as the recorder isn’t getting in the way of the police action. I’ve heard a number of reports of groups like CopWatch using videotaping the police as an excuse to interfere with the police activity that they claim to be “just recording”.

BF Skinner December 21, 2010 2:13 PM

opleaseopleaseoplease let the definition of “interacting with them in their official capacity” include when they are paying for sex, soliciting sex in an airport mens room and gambling.

Sam Bowne December 21, 2010 2:18 PM

Excellent point!

I think the same should apply to teachers. I always let people record me–I am a public figure. And I don’t even carry a gun!

Another Kevin December 21, 2010 2:21 PM

Where you part company with most of your countrymen is that you believe an increase of liberty is a good thing. Most on both sides of the aisle nowadays want a paternalistic – and hence anti-liberty – government to protect them.

carey December 21, 2010 2:24 PM

FTA: Harrell then informed the defendant that he was in violation of the Illinois wiretapping law, which makes it a Class 1 felony to record someone without his consent. “You violated my right to privacy,” the judge said.

So does that mean I can get the police cruiser dash cam footage thrown out since I didn’t consent to be recorded either?

Santa Claus December 21, 2010 2:31 PM

I completely agree with being able to record the activities of policemen that are supposed to be “public servants” that are acting on behalf of the tax payers and community. Transparency is almost always beneficial to society.

EH December 21, 2010 2:41 PM

Alex: Got a cite for that assertion? Confirmation bias aside, I’ve never heard of such a thing. If anything, police officers have been known to define interference as their merely noticing the photographer/recordist. The police should both be recorded and be capable of controlling a scene without freaking out about a camera across the street (Mike Anzaldi), let alone destroying evidence bald-facedly.

Atlas Tossed December 21, 2010 2:47 PM

Can someone please define “liberty” for me?
Modern PC definition of “freedom/liberty” includes:
You are free to be sniped by a nut ‘with no previous criminal or psychiatric record’ from a church or school tower.
You are free to to have a constitutional amendment restrict who you may marry.
In some states you will be free to be inundated with ‘in god we trust’, various ‘commandments’ and other theocratically engineered aphorisms, when visiting government property/facilities.
Other commentators may recall other examples of politically correct liberties.

CopWatch December 21, 2010 2:57 PM

The synopses of some of these videos appear “pro cop”.
Even in court cases involving an officer’s genuine error, copious video should help jurors determine the error was genuine.

mleduque December 21, 2010 3:08 PM

@Sam Bowne
Shouldn’t do, as it wouldn’t be easy to do without recording students.
At least here in France, there are some thing that must never get out of the class (or in some case, out of the school). Mostly to protect the children.

DrEnter December 21, 2010 3:12 PM

What really doesn’t make sense to me is that police routinely record (video, and in some places audio as well) routine traffic stops. These recordings are then used as evidence against those arrested. Why is this any different then the person being arrested (or anyone else nearby) recording the incident so they can use it as evidence in their own defense?

There are a couple of arguments against them doing this. The obvious one, that this is ultimately an illegal attempt by the police to prevent the defense from collecting entirely reasonable and proper evidence. There is another argument I’m not sure they have thought through… If you make it illegal on one side, it won’t take a very skilled defense attorney to realize that it should be illegal for the police as well. Those police recordings have been very valuable in some cases, but if they aren’t careful and push to have all recording of arrests restricted, they could end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater and make their own recordings illegal.

Just my $0.02.

Chris December 21, 2010 3:15 PM

Thomas Jefferson said:
“When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”

if the government is afraid that’s how I define liberty.

Flapping arms December 21, 2010 3:31 PM

From the entry: “I think we need a law that explicitly makes it legal for people to record government officials when they are interacting with them in their official capacity. And this is doubly true for police officers and other law enforcement officials. ”

This should be TRIPLY true for government officials who are not law enforcement, whose duties involve enforcing administrative regulations. Namely, TSA screeners.

David December 21, 2010 3:32 PM

“I think we need a law that explicitly makes it legal for people to record government officials when they are interacting with them in their official capacity. ”

You might as well go one step further. Rather than limiting the protections of the law to those who are being interacted with, the law should allow ANYONE to record police officers when those officers are engaged with the public.

pdf23ds December 21, 2010 3:33 PM

EH: No, selection bias is where the biased person actively chooses the samples/pieces of evidence. Confirmation bias is closer to right.

rich December 21, 2010 3:34 PM

I find it rather humorous that any police agency would hide under wiretapping laws to not have their police recorded. HMM we cannot demand the dash cam be turned off, we cannot demand that the traffic cams or red light cams, or speed cams, or atm cams, and the list goes on, be turned off. So why should the police be allowed to do so? Simple, they should not, and any that do, are trying to hide something. Generally the response from them is always, something to the effect of….well if you have nothing to hide why should you care about the camera, its for your protection……hmm, Pot Kettle Black……

Jeff December 21, 2010 3:36 PM

Can’t think of a better example than this dashboard cam video (albeit an example of police recording themselves):

In 23 seconds the cop has exited a vehicle and shot 5 times killing a pedestrian who seemed to be minding their own business.

W/o this video, it’s likely this cop would go back to active duty.

pdf23ds December 21, 2010 3:39 PM

Alex: “I’ve heard a number of reports of groups like CopWatch using videotaping the police as an excuse to interfere with the police activity that they claim to be “just recording”.”

I’ve heard this too. However, it should be obvious from the recordings whether this is taking place, so it would be easy to punish this behavior without punishing people who keep a reasonable distance.

But the cases that made the news recently are anything but like this. One was a motorcyclist who was recording with his helmet-cam when pulled over. The cop wasn’t even aware he was recording. It doesn’t get any less obstructive than that.

Don Howard December 21, 2010 3:40 PM

The widespread tendency of police to break the law and abuse their power is, as it always has been, sad, and one of the real triumphs of Satan in our nation. No Christian cop would fear to have his/her acts recorded — but most cops are not at all Christian, and instead are evil bullies. We can only hope technology can help improve this a bit.

Dave December 21, 2010 3:41 PM

An increasing number of police dept’s are putting cameras on thier officers in order to clarify any incidents that happen – either way

Dave C. December 21, 2010 3:42 PM

If you are secretly recording an encounter with a police officer (or anyone else for that matter) and doing so without their knowledge and acceptance of it, you’re committing a crime in many states. Don’t like the law? Then get it changed.

Brian Dozier December 21, 2010 3:44 PM

This reminds me of some recent articles/editorials in the Kansas City Star (local newspaper).
The Kansas City metro-area police forces have been criticized for their complaint-handling procedures. Very few complaints receive review and even fewer have anything that would resemble a resolution.
In many complaints, the person filing the complaint feels that the officer’s “dashcam” would corroborate their complaint, but in MOST of those complaints that received review, the dashcam was found to have been inoperative at the time.
Perhaps those cameras are unreliable, but it “feels” like a thin blue line and doesn’t engender the public’s trust.
Being able to have your own recording filed with the complaint might result in more of these complaints being resolved.

Alex December 21, 2010 3:44 PM

Some police departments are very open to being recorded, and even invite camera crews to ride along with officers on patrol. Take, for example, the “reality” show “Cops”. Other departments are less open. Still others are downright hostile to openness. Attitudes vary. Let’s be careful not to overgeneralize the failings of some police departments to apply to them all.

pdf23ds December 21, 2010 3:49 PM

Another argument against allowing citizens to record police is that they can selectively edit the video to make the cops’ actions look criminal when they were in fact acting properly. (This is a genuine concern: ask ACORN or Shirley Sherrod.) There’s no way to absolutely keep this from happening, but a good first step would be for the recording hardware to somehow be able to certify that a certain recording was originally captured as is. (As with DRM, this can always be circumvented with enough effort, but then so can police’s dash cams.)

Even with that precaution, sometimes police can look really bad if the video only captures their actions after a suspect has already greatly escalated the situation, and given that people often won’t start recording until then (when they notice the scene) this would probably happen frequently.

I’m very much in favor of letting, or even encouraging, people to record cops on duty, but I do wonder how these issues will be addressed.

VV December 21, 2010 3:51 PM

The paradigm is wrong…we can’t ask a government that breaks laws to pass more laws to protect us; the path is unstainable, and as Police actively break laws and the government is itself criminal, the only solution is for citizens to IGNORE laws and suvertively/actively film, record and keep corrupt cops and politicians active through the threat of public exposure.

There are plenty of small, hidden camera manufacturers out there…just buy a couple, keep them in your car and always be ready to start recording. Stop asking government’s permission to live your life.

AAS December 21, 2010 3:57 PM

@Don Howard

This has nothing to do with Christians or Satan. Bringing crap like that into it is removing the blame from the people who deserve it.

This happens because the people that seek power are the same people that would assert that power over others.

Also, there is no god.

delta December 21, 2010 3:59 PM

I would even be so generous as to consider an exception in the context of physically-in-an-official’s-office or similar situation (needing consent from both parties).

But in a public place — anywhere I’m expected to be on camera, say (in NYC: streets, buses, trains, shops, bars) — then that’s monumentally clear-cut. That has to be legal.

Bob December 21, 2010 4:02 PM

The problem with putting video on police is that it can tend to malfunction or be misfiled when the video would harm the police officer’s case. Such video needs to be tamper-resistant and administered by a separate entity. Preferably it should be live streaming to a place that the police cannot access to destroy or misplace the evidence. And lol at Don Howard for thinking that Christian police officer’s are somehow a counterpoint to evil (Atheist?) bullies.

agent47 December 21, 2010 4:03 PM

Agreed, the video footage can be edited, subtracted from, or added to; but, if a cop is beating the crap out of a minor on film, he still beat the crap out of a minor. That is what the justice system is for. Unfortunately, many police officers commit horrible, unspeakable crimes in accordance of the law. Murder is legal if the suspect appears to have something weapon-shaped in their hand, and sometimes a black wallet is weapon-shaped enough. Many forget, WE, the tax payers, pay them, and WE are their bosses. They answer to US and their job is to serve US.

Peter December 21, 2010 4:07 PM

amazing comments i read here:

“Most on both sides of the aisle nowadays want a paternalistic – and hence anti-liberty – government to protect them.”

So the US is becoming a communistic state, hence it makes logic; its already a police state, the government is against its own people, and tries to hide what it do from public (wikileaks) .. where di i heard that before, Putin… ??

Maybe the US should also focus more on the social part instead of the bigbrother part of communism.

And yeah i know you think communism is bad, because it takes away your freedom, then i would ask you what freedom is there anything you cant find in moskou? To be honestly you will find more freedom in moskou then in NY.

Although they have a buggy social system, oh well so does the US have.
You cannt be all like Cuba.
Well maybe if the whole world follows such system it wouldnt be bad anymore; as for governments loans are not that important.. its a control freaky thing they like most.

theaton December 21, 2010 4:08 PM

Liberty does not mean that you are able to move freely through society without being offended. Thomas Jefferson said something like “If it doesn’t break my leg or pick my pocket it is of no matter to me.” You should be able to marry anyone you want as long as the other party agrees.

It is certainly not liberty when you have a government taking your money under threat of violence only to give that money to others.

DrunkMunki December 21, 2010 4:11 PM

do what they do to us: “if you havent done anything wrong then you shouldnt care if you’re being recorded, you’ve got nothing to hide.”

Mike December 21, 2010 4:12 PM

What about reporters recording an accident scene? Police are there doing their job on camera… how is that any different?

You might say, reporter versus average citizen… but the only distinction is getting paid to report on it. So, if I put out a blanket reward for people ‘reporting’ the news involving cops, they are getting paid and are now reporters right?

Geoshi December 21, 2010 4:15 PM

Our local police dept tends to lose their video evidence. It would be nice to be able to (legally) produce a second copy for the judge/jury

John December 21, 2010 4:15 PM

All this talk of increasing and decreasing liberties reminds me of Go.

If you can’t increase your liberties while decreasing your opponent’s liberties, you will soon encounter a shortage of liberties situation. Then your opponent has more liberties than you do, and uses this to remove the remainder of your liberties in the ensuing fight.

Then your group is captured, and your opponent gets fresh territory and plenty of prisoners. If leaving the group alone won’t allow them to escape capture, your opponent will just ignore it until it is again a threat or until the endgame is reached and they’re counting territory, at which point all dead groups are automatically captured (without playing out the fight; they are just taken prisoner, with the justification that it is impossible to win the fight and playing out the fight will not alter the point balance).

Weaker players usually experience more shortages of liberties than stronger players, and thus have a harder time making territorial control. We have a handicap system where we put stones down on the board based on rank difference to adjust the balance of power, evening it out so that players have a base to work from and are more successful at increasing their liberties in those fights.

Concernedresident December 21, 2010 4:16 PM

A few have mentioned that video can be edited or tampered with. In a general context how are police any different to the rest of us? If video is to be used in court or as an official complaint then obviously it shouldn’t just be glanced at and fully trusted. For all our sakes I hope that an expertly edited video isn’t enough on its own to put any of us away or destroy our careers.

Arguing that police could be misrepresented, if being applied fairly, should lead one to argue that all forms of audio and visual recording should be totally banned.

xl December 21, 2010 4:18 PM

@Dave C.

Don’t like the law? Then get it changed.


If you think we need a law, then run for public office and enact one.

Simply beautiful. I never knew it was that simple.

Unfortunately the statements are similar to the spirit in these:
“If there is a will there is a way”
“You can get rich in America if you only want to”

From this sort of statements we can gather that:
A. This worlds problems (such as US deficit, persistent wars, terror threats, EU countries economical problems, etc) stem from that no one wants anything else.
B. The amount of poverty in USA is a result of poor people not wanting anything different.

Nigel December 21, 2010 4:18 PM

Recording public officials is currently not illegal so why would you need a law to allow you to do it?? Law enforcement officials perform many varied roles and should also expect their own privacy. Anyone who has had a modest interaction with the justice system will realise that law enforcement officers record most of their actions to protect themselves from baseless accuastions.

James BOND December 21, 2010 4:22 PM

It doesn’t matter. The police are killing people and not being held accountable. When video evidence is present they are taking the evidence and destroying it. The police state is here.

Protektor December 21, 2010 4:27 PM

In Missouri it is perfectly legal to record someone without their consent. Only 1 party has to know they are being recorded. Luckily that is the law in Missouri. So if the police/public officials don’t want to be recorded too bad. The police have used cameras for years for stings and drug busts. Not to mention police cars with dash mounted cameras and microphones that police never ask the public if they can film them with it. The FBI has done the same thing.

It is only fair to turn the tables on them and hold them accountable for their actions. Anyone who doesn’t think police/public officials should be recorded supports them not being accountable to the people who pay their salaries. Like they always tell the public, if they aren’t doing anything wrong then they shouldn’t mind being recorded. I personally think the public should be able to record public officials any time they are on duty, no matter where that is. We pay their salary and they are accountable to the public. Don’t forget most states also have sunshine laws so that the government can’t do things in secret. I know Missouri has them.

pdf23ds December 21, 2010 4:33 PM

Only 12 states require the consent of both parties to the recording. Presumably in the other states people won’t get prosecuted (formally) for recording police, only harassed. These states are CA, CT, DE, FL, MD, MA, NV, NH, PA, VT, WA, and IL.

ed December 21, 2010 4:33 PM

I was a cop back in the 1980’s.

I would have welcomed the ability to record my interactions with the public. Back then we had a lot of problems with people accusing the police of things that weren’t true.

If I was doing something illegal, then I’d expect that I’d be treated the same as anyone else would be. I understand that not all of my fellow officers felt the same way – there were special “percs” for being a cop that no one wanted to admit to.

Joshm December 21, 2010 4:33 PM

Irregardless of whether police should or should not be recorded…
Making it legal to do so will result in creating a new form of paparazzi that chase down any and all police action. Anyone with an imagination should be able to think of a reason that will not be a good thing.
Can you imagine unnecessary people involving themselves in;
A high-speed police chase?
A hostage scenario?
A drug bust that turns violent?

Not only will these people trying to get that that video footage be putting themselves in harm way, they will be splitting the attention of the officers to ensure their safety.

On another point, when these officers are being recorded, so are the suspected criminals, and possibly even victims. What about their privacy rights? What about justice not being served when a criminal gets his case thrown out for video evidence going viral on the internet before his trial, turning the jury pool against him?
What about someone recording a simple traffic stop? Do you want your face all over the internet for speeding?

I am all for law enforcement accountability, my suggestion is that they be recorded by devices on their person, for review by a 3rd party created for that purpose for review of actions.

R H December 21, 2010 4:41 PM

I once used my (defendant) copy of a cruiser-cam video to successfully argue a improper traffic citation.

The court system seemed unprepared for this, as it would have required the courtoom to obtain access to a DVD player, essentially turning a 5-minute appearance into an all-day affair.

I agree that the law should apply equally to government agents and to citizens.

Dimitri Mariutto December 21, 2010 4:52 PM


“I think we need a law that explicitly makes it legal for people to record government officials when they are interacting with them in their official capacity.”

Typically, laws only remove freedoms [in this case, it would remove freedoms from government officials, not the public]. If there is no law that prohibits recording of government officials, then it is legal.

Comment about wiretapping laws: Wiretapping laws are meant to shut down 3rd party recordings [historically, meant to stop people from listening in on others phone calls]. If you are recording an officer who is interrogating you, then you are not 3rd party and should be able to record away.

However, in some states, you will need the other parties consent [google ‘wiretapping laws’ for a list] but really you should be able to record, you just shouldn’t make it publicly accessible [like posting it on youtube] to anyone else.

Finally, some states have hidden camera/recording laws which is kinda BS. If you are in public or a place where privacy is not expected, then, again, recording should be legal. As others have pointed out, law enforcement now has video recording equipment always recording away which is fine if it is in public areas.

name December 21, 2010 5:05 PM

I dont think what you want will happen.

Has even 1 politician anywhere in the USA supported such a thing?

J December 21, 2010 5:08 PM

@Posted by: Joshm at December 21, 2010 4:33 PM


The first portion of your post about people “getting in the way” wouldn’t be any different than it already is today.

I would hate to be a victim of a crime where the perp got off because witnesses didn’t record and gather evidence because they were afraid of recording the police.

If the conversation between a citizen and officer ought to be private those involved are free to go to a “private” (non-public location) venue, like a meeting room at the police station, or in to one’s private home. And it doesn’t matter if the citizen wants or thinks the conversation is private… it’s not. Anything a person says or does can and will be used against them in a court of law. There is no police-citizen privilege similar to attorney-client or spousal privilege.

Do you want your face all over the internet for speeding? Don’t speed then! On a public roadway/avenue? Then there is no expectation of privacy! Duh! How come some people don’t get this?

Scott December 21, 2010 5:08 PM

You need to visit Carlos Miller’s “Photography is not a crime” blog. Many many many reports of this sort of thing.

No Copper December 21, 2010 5:11 PM

Police in general become police not because they wish to serve the public, but because they like the idea of holding power over people.

Virtually every officer I have ever met had an attitude that they are above and better than the general public, thus they can do as they please.

Without public recording of police activities there would have been no Rodney King incident and no fallout of the Rodney King incident, which was the removal of known abusive police officers from virtually all police departments in California.

All the police officers fired due to the fallout of Rodney King had myriad public complaints against them, but police departments are good-ol-boy networks which can not be relied upon to police themselves; thus public scrutiny is essential and our only method to help ensure they stay honest.

Power to the people!

Eric W December 21, 2010 5:20 PM

Recording the police, or other public servant, should be a basic right. Like other basic rights it will probably have to be decided in the courts rather in the congress since there is no way congress will pass a law that appears anti-cop. They are far too pansy to deal with this issue head on.

We often think of the three branches of government, but the silent partner in all of them in the citizens who have to deal with the other three on a day-to-day basis.

Paul Crowley December 21, 2010 5:20 PM

The problem with recording police interactions with the public is not the police officer – as many have pointed out they should be fine with being recorded.

However, the suspect being questioned or arrested is probably not fine with that. How about someone recording the police at a DUI checkpoint where you get stopped and asked to step out of the car. There is no reason, if it was legal to do so, for someone not to record this and post it for all to see. Right? Imagine the voiceover with “Oh boy, he so going down. Drunk on his ass he is.” Of course the video doesn’t show you getting in the car and driving off – but all your co-workers get to see the video without that little bit at the end. I guess any future employers get to see that before your interview as well.

And if you are a schoolteacher, well, you might as well just retire right now.

No, there is no right to record interactions between the police and some random person. This should be illegal as it is a gross violation of privacy. This is the one thing that people just do not seem to understand with all this about recording the police.

J December 21, 2010 5:25 PM

@Posted by: Paul Crowley at December 21, 2010 5:20 PM

“No, there is no right to record interactions between the police and some random person. This should be illegal as it is a gross violation of privacy. This is the one thing that people just do not seem to understand with all this about recording the police.”

No! There is no expectation of privacy in public places! My the government has succeeded in dumbing down the populace.

J December 21, 2010 5:29 PM

@Posted by: Paul Crowley at December 21, 2010 5:20 PM

“Imagine the voiceover with “Oh boy, he so going down. Drunk on his ass he is.”

Then you sue for defamation of character.

GeneSimmons December 21, 2010 5:51 PM

Nice topic but along with a few other previous comments and personal experience Video Tape evidence only holds a very little grain of salt in court due to time stamping, water marking, proof of originality, proof of time being accurate with global time clock and various other standards depending on state and area and In my opinion it should be a two way street when it comes to privacy and video/ audio recording.

Dirk Praet December 21, 2010 5:56 PM

“I think we need a law that explicitly makes it legal for people to record government officials when they are interacting with them in their official capacity. And this is doubly true for police officers and other law enforcement officials.”

Couldn’t agree more.

A couple of months ago, outside my local pub, we witnessed a serious display of power by three police cars with flashing lights and a total of nine armed officers wearing bullet-proof jackets. The ongoing crime was two senior citizens, one of whom with a cane, that had a a bit too much to drink and were about to board their car. Both nearly wet themselves out of fear when they were formally arrested and driven to the nearest station. A friend of mine filming the scene with his cellphone nearly had himself arrested too when pointed out (politely) by the brave officers “that he was violating the privacy of the arrested parties”. This is absolutely and totally absurd.

anton666 December 21, 2010 6:21 PM

I’m sorry, but, anyone who photographes a police officer should be jailed. For a very long time. There are terroists everywhere and some of them will be using our own freedoms (like photography) against us, e.g. to prosecute law enforcement officers who are just trying to do their job!

Trichinosis USA December 21, 2010 6:22 PM

Not only are private citizens prevented from documenting the actions of the police, police officers have assaulted badged members of the press, arrested them on trumped-up charges, and confiscated their cameras. Last month two Russia Today reporters were taken into custody while covering a protest at Fort Benning. At the Republican National Convention in September 2008, three members of Democracy Now were assaulted and arrested by the Minneapolis police.

Unchallenged intimidation of the press by the police rolls out a red carpet for the implementation of a totalitarian regime.

BF Skinner December 21, 2010 6:42 PM

Reminder. Let’s not conflate the visual recording with the audio recording (which is what wire tapping covers)

If a video is being shot of people in public they are, mostly, allowed because people in public don’t have an expectation of privacy. Probably the justification for the crusier dashboard camera’s.

It’s why the LEO asks…”is that recording audio?” You can even photograph and videotape w/audio TSA checkpoints (subject to local two party consent laws) as long as you don’t ‘interfere’. (keep a copy of the TSA public affairs emergency number in your phone)

But no one is allowed to say who the press is (so says SCOTUS) or what is news worthy (that’s up to the press says SCOTUS).
So We should all become members of the press. Freelancers all. Someone suggested carrying a press card from the Onion. That’ll work for a while.

MarkH December 21, 2010 6:51 PM

Carl wrote:

“Can someone please define “liberty” for me?”

Probably, Carl is trying to use some subtlety in making a point. However, if he is genuinely in the dark on this matter, such ignorance would help to explain the broad and uncritical support of government security policies shown in some of his posts.

Some time ago, in response to sharp criticism from other countries, the government of the People’s Republic of China created a commission that was assigned to solve a mystery: what do foreigners mean, when they talk about “human rights?”

If Carl, or anyone else, would like to learn what Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson (to offer some outstanding examples) had in mind when they used the word “liberty,” I recommend a study of their writings. They left us a valuable documentary record, that sheds light on the concept of liberty in the foundation of the USA.

I believe that this matter is relevant here (this is a security blog, NOT a politics blog) because — in my understanding — to the inventors and philosophers of the systems of government applied in the US, security was not independent of liberty; rather, liberty was a cornerstone without which security could not long stand.

JPo December 21, 2010 6:57 PM

You lost me on “Wikileaks.” They’ve lost all credibility. I wouldn’t exactly hold a nutjob who decides to go tit-for-tat with world governments for attention an example of shining the light on truth. They may have started that way but something went way wrong at Wikileaks.

Richard December 21, 2010 6:58 PM

While I agree in principle that citizens should be free to record the behavior of public servants in the course of their official duties I am at the same time leary of the maxim, “there outta be a law”. For those who wonder what “liberty” means, it means the right to be free from unnecessary laws. Let those who want to curtail that “liberty” demonstrate the harm to be prevented.

ca atty December 21, 2010 7:05 PM

pdf said: Only 12 states require the consent of both parties … states are CA, CT, DE, FL, MD, MA, NV, NH, PA, VT, WA, and IL.

Not true, at least in CA. You only need knowledge by both, not consent. You could say “this call may be recorded” or simply hold your camera up in plain view. You can’t record if it would violate a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” which includes phone calls without notice to all involved.

You can record 1) cops in public (in CA) OR 2) with an obvious recording device even in non-public areas. In the first there is no expectation of privacy for cops in a public; the second is done with knowledge (even without consent). Hidden cams in non-public places are not legal, so no toilet cams or nanny cams.

J Horemans December 21, 2010 7:17 PM

On Dec. 21, 2010, Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit said one Toronto police officer had been charged with assault in connection with the violent arrest of G20 protester Adam Nobody on June 26, 2010.

The unnecessarily violent arrest was captured on cam. Initially the officer was not able to be identified (lack of effort?) as the officer (and others) had illegally removed badges from uniforms. The police chief was ‘unable’ to identify or order other officers present to identify him, and then publicly announced the video was ‘doctored’. Persistence by the press led to the identification and charges.–police-officer-charged-in-g20-beating?bn=1

Eric December 21, 2010 7:52 PM

On the main point of the article – I agree that almost all public interaction with the police should be allowed to be video and/or audio recorded, unless doing so actually, physically, interferes with the police doing their job (e.g. standing between an officer and a witness he is trying to interview). I think there needs to be better education starting at the law enforcement academy level and continuing afterward as to the rights of the public to make video and/or audio recordings. Like all people, some police officers are just jerks, but many are just honestly mistaken due to poor training or no training.

@R H
Just curious, did you tell the court ahead of time that you would need AV equipment? Some courts have them available all the time, but many have to share them. The court I work for is fortunate enough to have a fairly reliable laptop and a TV we found on clearance a couple of years ago. We have a very modest budget. Most courts expect the parties to a civil lawsuit to bring whatever is necessary to display their evidence to the finder of fact (jury or judge, depending on the type of case). Defendants in criminal cases who cannot afford such things are entitled to have them provided without cost, but that’s pretty much the extent of the free assistance that is legally required.

Traffic tickets are generally civil suits, though some states (NV for example) do not have infractions and simply make all traffic tickets misdemeanors. So, in most states, you should plan on bringing your own equipment.

That being said, every court staff that I’ve worked with will bend over backward to provide what they can. We generally provide dress clothes to indigent defendants out of our own closets.

Practical advice for anyone fighting a ticket: call about a week ahead of time and talk to the office administrator or the bailiff. Politely tell them what you need and it will usually be there. It helps if you offer to show up early to make sure everything works. It might just be somebody’s laptop that the judge watches while the prosecutor and defendant crowd in (this happens a lot – the TV is heavy), but at least you’ll get your evidence heard.

Aaron December 21, 2010 8:14 PM

“I think we need a law that explicitly makes it legal for people to record government officials when they are interacting with them in their official capacity.”

In this Country it is legal to do anything that isn’t illegal. What we need, is court precedent stating that the laws being thrown at these people are not applicable to these circumstances. If we do need a law, it is one making it a crime for an officer to impede recording of him while operating in an official capacity.

vinnie December 21, 2010 8:16 PM

I think people are making great points here both for and against recording.

joshm, makes a great point against:
“What about justice not being served when a criminal gets his case thrown out for video evidence going viral on the internet before his trial, turning the jury pool against him?”

I’d like to add to that, that I would hate to see some officer’s credibility destroyed by acting inappropriately in one high stress situation, when he/she may have had an otherwise good career.

On the other hand, it’s unfair for the police to record everything and only use tapes at their discretion. The tapes that the officer records should be made more readily available to any involved party, and harder laws should be passed against obscuring the content of these tapes. I’ve seen cases where the camera was turned away from the crime and that should incur a large penalty.

voline December 21, 2010 8:53 PM

In two Oregon communities the police have arrested citizens recording them on duty using the anti-wire tap statutes. Both times prosecutors refused to prosecute the citizens and one issued a memo stating that police while on-duty and interacting with the public have no reasonable expectation of privacy and so recording them is within the law.

See this article that includes a link to the Beaverton City attorney’s memo.

LPT December 21, 2010 9:58 PM

Constitutional rights guarantee you to a jury of your peers in cases exceeding $20? (I can’t remember even high school gov’t, my apologies). However, it seems that in this case a trial by jury would be granted if requested. Then proceed to ask the judge if the jury can be recorded during their deliberations, if the court can be recorded during the proceedings or anyone else in the court being recorded during the entire affair. When the response comes back no, inquire as to the equality of the jury, judge, baliff, etc in comparison to the defendant. When the response comes back in the clear (all members being unequal) demand that you have the right to a trial by a jury of your peers, peers being equal. Refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the court.

jim sadler December 21, 2010 10:03 PM

A great deal of crime could be prevented if all people were allowed to record everywhere with hidden recorders.
One problem is who does the filming. Filming from a certain angle or at certain moments can alter the truth of the situation. If a totally neutral third party does the recording and there is a clear chain of evidence immediately established judges are much more like to admit recordings into evidence. Probably the best evidence would be from a fixed position so that the photographer can not influence the recording process.

JG December 21, 2010 10:18 PM

@Carl: read the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. ‘Nuf said.

It would be nice to have explicit rights to record the police or public officials but there’s very much the chance that might not occur.

This is why massive surreptitious recording of all police and government officials by citizens is probably necessary.

The technology already exists. Hidden cameras in clothing and personal affects. Cameras in most personal motor vehicles to record every single traffic stop from the citizen view. Cameras on private property recording all police actions on public and private property en-mass.

Not unlike the ubiquity of public surveillance cameras installed by government and businesses, only these controlled by individual citizens and largely stealth in their appearance.

And just like the government says about their cameras, the police and government officials have nothing to worry about if they’ve done nothing wrong. Two can play at that game.

Oh, you’re always guilty of something? Is that the worry? Well, sounds like justification to simplify the complexity of US law like a Gordian Knot.

This is warfare against US citizens and these types of situations needs to be treated as war.

Carl December 21, 2010 11:18 PM

So, there is no common understanding of what “liberty” is, beyond different shades of the “gov’t is evil, I am good”.

Self determination is always weighed against it’s impacts on others. Free speech does not extend to shouting “FIRE” in crowded theater. You folks act as if we dont elect anyone (LOL, yeah, electoral college, I know.. but we elect, that’s the fact). Jefferson et al SET UP this form of govt that persists today. (FORM I said, not SIZE, lest you forget, we still have 3 branches). They SET IT UP. They did not create a autonomous collective did they?

“I believe that this matter is relevant here (this is a security blog, NOT a politics blog)”

this is most CERTAINLY a politics (libertarian) blog first and foremost. More than 1/2 the blogs from Bruce are either direct or indirect slams on the govt/law enforcement, and well over 75% of the comments are pure slams (and trying to portray “keeping the govt out is part of the security story” is nonsense)

what does “recording the police” have to do with crypto?

MarkH December 22, 2010 1:02 AM

By coincidence, I just re-watched a TV documentary about a young woman who was killed by a government-authorized militiaman in Iran, following the most recent presidential election there.

Were it not for various mobile-phone video recordings documenting the oppressive behavior of these militia forces, the world would probably have learned much less of this dreadful story.

It is a strong example of how video surveillance of governmental police power can chip away at the enormous imbalance of power between governments and ordinary citizens.

BTW, the worst abuses were carried out by the government-directed militia, not Iran’s civil police, who in at least one case tried to oppose the militia.

MarkH December 22, 2010 1:22 AM


“what does ‘recording the police’ have to do with crypto?”

Gosh, I don’t know. Attentive readers of this blog may have noticed that the pages are headlined, in large type, “Schneier on Security,” not “Schneier on Cryptography”.

In my opinion, “recording the police” has plenty to do with security. A person who is wrongly deprived of life, liberty, or property by a government agent has suffered (in my opinion) a serious rupture of personal security.

Personally, I am pro-police. I value the functions they serve, estimate highly how tough their job often gets, and I understand that they need and deserve public support. I also understand that police acting unlawfully can pose extraordinary dangers. This thread offers some explanation of how video surveillance of the exercise of police power protects both police officers, and the public.

I have heard — and my reading of history supports this — that in modern history at least, far more people have been slaughtered by their own governments, than by the agents of foreign governments. If a soldier, police officer, or other government agent kills you — he will probably be from YOUR government.

For me, it is abundantly clear that the oversight of governmental exercise of power, and systems to ensure accountability, are important matters of real-world security.

Rabbit Ron December 22, 2010 1:36 AM

I fully support being able to record police actions. The only caveat is some undercover officers need to have their identities remain hidden. Any recording would need to have all faces blurred when published until law enforcement agencies have an opportunity to identify those agents whose faces need to be hidden for their safety and on going investigations.

Andrea Matesi December 22, 2010 3:01 AM

I suppose it’s not the citizens that should record the police, it’s the police that should record themselves.
They should be provided with a “no-tamper” shoulder-mounted and cloud-enabled camera and get instructed about their accountability.

PT December 22, 2010 3:14 AM

One bit here really hits home:

“Privacy has to be viewed in the context of relative power. For example, the government has a lot more power than the people. So privacy for the government increases their power and increases the power imbalance between government and the people; it decreases liberty.”

I find it ironic that those I’ve met who are most apt to allow more invasive airport screenings, illegal wiretaps, etc. as part of the War on Terror are also the ones most likely to say that they don’t want Big Government providing universal health coverage, collecting taxes, implementing gun purchase or carry laws, or regulating investment institutions or “net neutrality”. That’s right, government protection is bad, unless of course it involves eliminating personal privacy to shield us from unnamed, unknown, and unlikely terrorist acts.

Gun owners in particular should recognize this type of curbing of privacy as an even larger threat than gun laws because the consequences are much broader and far more insidious. Without personal privacy there is no room to voice contrary personal opinions. Couple that with the “anything in the name of protection against terrorism” mentality and the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave will eventually only exist in fairy tales.

Torben December 22, 2010 3:43 AM

As usual, I agree with Bruce Schneier on the underlying principle — but in this case not on the execution.

As others have pointed out, we do not need MORE laws, rather fewer. The legal system in most countries — not the least USA — has become overburdened with laws to cover every little eventuality and to ensure that every major lobbyist group have a say.

The recording of officials doing their duty in the public space should not be encumbered with restrictions per se. Obviously there would be laws to protect people’s rights and those would and should apply to the officials as well as the “ordinary” people.

With regards to anton666’s comment, Let us make this absolutely clear (I think mr. Schneier may agree):

  • The terrorists have won. The western world is changed beyond recognition and we have had major parts of our freedom taken away to “protect” ourselves.
  • We try to protect ourselves from something that may have a big impact, but is comparatively rare. (Think about it, the number of deaths from terrorist actions around the world in recorded time is about the same as the number of people dying from the flu in a couple of years! And much less than the number of people killed in traffic every year. Now we fear flying, but are more likely to get killed driving to the airport. Is that not a farce?)

AD December 22, 2010 5:06 AM

I dislike the idea. What about victims of crime right to privacy? I was stopped and questioned by Police once due to the fact I was a close match to the description of a wanted person for an armed hold-up nearby. I was questioned a length, and I would have hated having anybody film it. Even though nothing came of it, it still would have been a breach of my privacy if somebody did. You would have people filming domestics that Police are involved in etc. It’s not right.

Roger Halstead December 22, 2010 5:42 AM

I have to disagree with what I see as the general trend here. I believe any official, or officer “in public” should be fair game for recording/photography “As long as the photographer does not interfere with the duties being carried out.”

HOWEVER bear in mind that if the private citizen is recognizable in the images it may require a release “from that individual” in many cases. Being arrested? Probably not, but for the official and private individual carrying on a LEGAL transaction the posting such a video or photo is already against privacy laws and opens up the photographer and/or poster for a lawsuit. Photography of non public figures is risky at best. Posting said images is asking for trouble.

Santa Claus December 22, 2010 6:51 AM

@ Dave C.

The question is, is there an expectation of privacy when a public official is performing his job duties. In my opinion, there should not be since he is working on behalf of the government which should be transparent.

shannon December 22, 2010 7:10 AM

Alex: Re: tv show “Cops”. Really? It’s one, big promo for the departments. Any behavior less than 100% positive will be edited out of the aired show. Therefore, not an accurate profile of police action.

Oh please December 22, 2010 7:21 AM

Smooth move slipping Wikileaks in there. There’s a major difference between holding police acountable when they pull you over for a traffic violation and leaking classified information that can endanger the lives of American troops. There is a time and place for privacy in the government, but it has certainly become rediculous.

Danny H. December 22, 2010 7:32 AM

First – Previous comment about ‘Christan Cops’ is a hypothetical statement and should therefor be discounted, I could easily say that Muslims who truly follow Allah or Jewish who truly follow The Lord or even Jehovia Witnesses who truly follow YHWH would in no way do such things…same goes for other groups but no religious group is perfect be they Shinto, Wicca, Hindu, Buddhist, or Oceanic are all composed of human beings and thusly all follow the same rules of mortality.

Second – The police have become abusive in their power and most who join the police were bullies (this is a statical fact which one can find from an older issue of TIME / LIFE Magazine.) prior to becoming cops and this easily makes ME feel that the war on photography is absurd BS …we should be allowed with out fear to record those that record us, this is as bad as thieves, killers, and even rapist getting away with SUEING their victims!

Third – I agree with a few of the above statements also about not expecting privacy when public officials are performing their job and should be transparent, this again goes back to lack of accountability.

Shadowchaser December 22, 2010 7:47 AM

Generally I agree. However in 90s in Poland somebody made a video displaying police brutality against football (soccer) hooligans. After that police became more calm, because they were afraid of another incident. Outcome, hooligans are terrorizing everybody during matches. Normal people are not going to stadiums, because they’re scared. Police should know its limits and it’s good that somebody would control them from time to time, but as with everything there should be a balance.

Alan Kaminsky December 22, 2010 8:14 AM

Forget laws, regulations, and court rulings. I propose ratifying the following amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to join the other ten in the Bill of Rights.

“A well regulated record of public activity, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to make and keep photographs, audio and video recordings, shall not be infringed.”

Johnny Wingate December 22, 2010 8:25 AM

My view is this,If people video tape police officers in action then start from the beginning of the process. don’t just film the fight and then say that the police officer is wrong. film what led up to the fight.

pdf23ds December 22, 2010 8:39 AM

People here are worried about others making videos of citizens interacting with the police and then publishing those videos, resulting in an violation of the citizen’s privacy. If this happened it would be bad, I agree. We shouldn’t let people with cameras invade the privacy of normal citizens, whether or not there are police around. In situations where a person is being questioned in a public place by the police, perhaps we should grant that the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy w/r/t the contents of the questioning. And, obviously, recording police when they (lawfully) enter a private home is not OK unless the person recording has a right to be on that property in the first place.

Really, that doesn’t sound like a difficult issue to take care of.

pdf23ds December 22, 2010 8:44 AM

“Photography of non public figures is risky at best. Posting said images is asking for trouble.”

In most places, this is just wrong regarding the law.

zerogov December 22, 2010 8:48 AM

Here in the UK we have already won the first stage of fighting such draconian laws and legislation as mentioned above.

Police authorities have been warned by a senior police officials that their careless disregard for the rights of the individual to record public events, including the actions of the police, won’t be tolerated and strikes at the very heart of a free and democratic society.

DeathBreath December 22, 2010 9:12 AM

I would consider myself as being someone who keeps up with the occurrences of life; however, this article told me nothing. There were no specifics. It goes to show that, “shallow brooks are noisy.”

John December 22, 2010 9:33 AM

Can someone please define “liberty” for me?

An empty space adjacent to a stone or connected group of stones (stones of the same color on each others’ liberties are connected). Each liberty give the group more flexibility in terms of running, living, and winning capture races against stronger groups.

A group that can permanently prevent all of its liberties from being taken away is “living,” while a group that cannot prevent all its liberties from being taken is “dead.” Dead groups can be captured at will and, in the endgame, are simply taken without explaining the capture by mutual agreement that all liberties will be taken in a fight anyway; disagreements result in the player who is dead playing first to show how to save the group, which usually leads simply to a fight and eventual capture by force.

Right now, we are experiencing a shortage of liberties. Soon anyone they don’t like will be thrown in jail at will.

GreenSquirrel December 22, 2010 9:41 AM

I can but hope that the comment from Anton666:

“I’m sorry, but, anyone who photographes a police officer should be jailed. For a very long time.”

is either a joke or a troll (I am leaning towards the phrase “an obvious troll is obvious” but a joke is always possible.

Given the concept that there is no right to privacy in a public place there is no reason why the public should not be able to record (audio or visual) interactions between the public and Government officials.

Yes there is the possibility for abuse here, but then that is the case with everything. We already have systems in place to deal with miscreants.

As I see it, the fundamental question is why should the police, when interacting with the public, have a greater right of privacy than the ordinary citizen?

(ps. Obviously, the situation is slightly different here in the UK with the crazy law making it illegal to take photos of serving or retired police, military or intelligence personnel. To this end I fully intend to take every city council to court….)

(pps. What has wikileaks got to do with this? When it was publishing the wrong doings of China we loved it, now we hate it. Says more about us. Also Assange != wikileaks. Dont give the ass the publicity)

Cal Mooney December 22, 2010 9:46 AM

I am a police officer, and I can tell you that outside of an interview room, I cannot even pretend that I have an expectation of privacy in the performance of my duties. The vast majority of a police officer’s job takes place in the public view. I am always surprised when I hear how some departments fight this concept.

My concern has always arisen from the fragmentary nature of these public/law enforcement video records. In particular, citizen recordings are often catching only a portion of any incidents and can lead to broad, inaccurate assumptions. Case in point, a number of years ago there was a video circulating of an officer who had a subject leaning forward against his squad car, with hands handcuffed behind his back, to be searched or frisked. Apparently without warning, the officer grabs the subject by the back of his head and slams it into the roof of the squad car. Since the video was shot from the far side of the car, you could not see that the subject had reached back and grabbed the officer by his testicles and was squeezing. I believe the officer ended up receiving medical attention, however, the video was damning to the service and that officer’s career. While the officer was defending himself from assault, the video would not have supported this fact. Any such video surveillance should be a piece of a larger inquiry or investigation, instead it is often all that the public wants or requires.

Accountability is important in that it should inspire, not just right action, but also due diligence and due process prior to any public condemnation. The public should be free to record, to support this accountability. I believe that, but I worry about the public’s tendency to rail against the tyranny of any available authority figure before they have all their information.

Having read all the comments, and not finding anything to address that concern, I felt I should present that notion.

wither December 22, 2010 11:23 AM

So far, people are arguing over whether taping is a violation of the privacy of public officials. I believe an individual, at minimum, should have rights to record whatever is happening to himself or herself, and if an officer becomes part of that context, then I think it should be argued that it is fair game as an immediate part of that context.

It is silly to put up walls between what can be shown really happened and what is merely in someone’s pretty little head. Any system that must defend itself with these walls is suspect in its ability to ensure justice.

Yet, as we see here, there are those that argue for fear of retribution towards an officer, especially by terrorists, yada yada. How ironic. It’s an admission that reality-based thinking (or American democracy in general) is powerless- POWERLESS, MIND YOU, in the face of the legions of terrorists that, judging from Fox News, appear to outnumber us on every street corner.

The vast majority of these public recordings show an officer was doing a job, more or less properly, and support an account of the facts.

Doug Coulter December 22, 2010 1:48 PM

Cal brings up a good point here. Video will always be incomplete for various reasons.

I still think some is better than none, and that more is better.

Because, it will help with a baseline. Sure, that one cop got hosed unfairly. More cases of video will not increase that one I think. Because more information generally helps toward truth. Suppose this one cop had tons of videos about his interactions with the public, and this was the only bad-looking one — he’s in general a model cop.
(They do exist, I just wish more were.)

Wouldn’t that help his case in the particular instance where the video omitted something important? I think it would.

If norms were better established, then the outliers would stand out more, no?

Charles December 22, 2010 2:39 PM

It’s an embarrassment that some states haven’t updated these antiquated and mis-used laws.

That said, protecting the right to record video or pictures ain’t the same as giving the right to interfere or disobey lawful orders. Don’t want to over-correct here. So an officer arresting you shouldn’t have to worry about breaking other laws by taking your phone away while he’s doing it, and officers shouldn’t be responsible for the quality of your recording device – if they want to set up a perimiter and your camera is too crappy to get a good picture/sound at that distance, that’s your problem.

TJ December 22, 2010 3:16 PM

What do we keep hearing about being NSA wiretapped despite the illegality of domestic spying? Oh yeah:

If the cops aren’t doing anything wrong, they have nothing to worry about.

Larry S Donald December 22, 2010 4:03 PM

Good cops = would love being on tape the whole while on duty. Forget claiming police abuse, messing up procedures, illegal search, he/she said.. Check the tape – done.

Bad cops = hates being on tape. You have to follow all those pesky laws, like all of them not just the ones you like.

Alan Amesbury December 22, 2010 4:27 PM

If it’s illegal for me to record my interactions with police using a video camera, isn’t it similarly illegal for the police to record their interactions with me with a video camera? I suspect there’s no legislation covering the use of cameras installed in squad cars, nor legitimizing the use of live microphones carried by some police officers (tied to their car’s camera). If the concern is that the procedures that police have to legally follow are too cumbersome to be followed all the time, then perhaps we need to revisit those procedures.

Carl December 22, 2010 5:15 PM

“I have heard — and my reading of history supports this — that in modern history at least, far more people have been slaughtered by their own governments, than by the agents of foreign governments”

classic unrelated to reality answer seen so often on this blog.. Why dont you collect your list.. Stalin, Pol Pot.. see if it adds up to anything approaching this. lol


1.) World War 2: 40-72 million deaths
2.) An Shi Rebellion: 33-36 million
3.) Mongol Conquests: 30-60 million
4.) Manchu conquest: 25 million
5.) Taiping Rebellion: 20-30 million
6.) World War 1: 19-59 million
7.) Conquests of Timur: 7-20 million
8.) Russian Civil War: 5-9 million
9.) Second Congo War: 3.8-13.8
10.) Napoleonic Wars: 3.5-16 million

John December 22, 2010 5:19 PM

I will never forget an interview I saw where someone was interviewing a former retired police commissioner of New York City. He made an astonishing statement, coming from a police official, that went something like: ‘If police officers are not held accountable and in check, they WILL get out of hand.’

Peter E Retep December 22, 2010 7:50 PM

Dear Bruce,

Readers may be interested in this:

Tell your story where it can make a difference.

Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs) and the mobility of bits
have many differing uses with common binary bits.
Encounters involving PEDs are given many meanings.
Now that we know there is a problem,
what is the problem exactly?
Is it different in dfferent places for different reasons?
How is it perceived and understood, and by whom?

In an effort to better answer these questions
Sam Peds launches a site on ISD called
Don’t Hit the PEDs.
It is divided into four forums:
One for Policy Level thinkers…….. DontHitthePEDsPolicy
One for sworn officers………. ……… DontHitthePEDsLEO
One for percipient witnesses and trained observors
………………. DontHitthePEDsExpert
and one for everyone’s stories:….. DontHitthePEDsPublic

Pick your level and go to:

Tell your story where posting it can make a difference.
DelphiForums begun at M I T continues today.

Sam Peds is an LAPD cilivilian academy program graduate
(under another name), whose grandfather was a Chief of Police..
Also, Sam Peds participates on a British Crmiminological Site.
Sam Peds has also prepared a taxonomy to help track
all the dimensions and variables that inform such encounters.

For example, one variable codes whether the PEDs Encounter is:
and/or personal,
and over two dozen other variables
to constructively map techno, precedent, custom, practice,
police, and circumstance details, into the real world.

It’s time for everyone to be able to compare notes.

The launch begins in English.
Stories will be broadly classified as taking place in:
U.S., by State,
United Kingdom, andor each former Commonwealth country
European Countries
Former Soviet Countries
Oriental Asia
Islamic dominant countries
SubSaharan Africa
French speaking countries
Spanish speaking countries
Portuguese speaking countries
and as to whether they are internal or at border crossings.

Real names should not be used, as we don’t verify,
but Delphi Forums posting requires registration with Delphi.
The site does not allow posting of real names or badge numbers
unless they are already in linked news stories, in order to protect privacy.
Policy and Position Paper links are welcome.

If a completely anonymous post needs to be made for safety reasons,
it can be anonymously forwarded for review to Sam PEDs
or if you want to support the effort, write to Sam Peds


Posted with the Permission of Sam Peds.
I know Sam PEDs. Sam Peds is doing this on a shoestring,
because Sam Peds believes it is needed
and is looking for (dedicated) funding to make it more robust.
More will be arranged.

ManoftheNorth December 22, 2010 9:04 PM

I think it’s an excellent idea to be able to photograph freely absolutely every public official any time at all. As an old prison chaplain, I’ve seen enough to suggest that on-duty or off-duty shouldn’t make any difference whatsoever. It’s time these people accepted that they have a place in the world just like everyone else, and if they want to be a cop or a politician or whatever, risk comes with the territory. I’m a fireman, myself, so I don’t mind being in front of a camera either.

It might make better law and fairer social reaction if this were a legal stipulation.

J. M. Schneider December 22, 2010 9:10 PM

I got about a third of the way through all the comments when I tired of the redundancy about ‘making things legal to do’. I would remind folks (and apologize if I jumped over comments that echo what I’m about to say), but we don’t need laws that empower the citizenry to DO some thing, so long as that activity is not explicitly prohibited in the first place.

The rub is, that where not everything is explicitly articulated in legislation, that which is not is left to interpretation. And that leads to abuses of the legal process.

If I am stopped on the roadside, and my passenger whips out their cell phone, and starts to record the encounter, an officer could draw them into the scope of the stop and force them to cease the recording because they’re being assessed, and the recording process interferes with the law enforcement process. Too convenient.

While the public at large (in Illinois) is protected from covert and non-consensual recording (audio and video)[IL Law 720 ILCS 5/26-4], public servants, LEOs are likely outside the scope of being solely a ‘citizen’ themselves (and should be). Although their roles as public servants do not require that they surrender all their rights as citizens, by becoming public servants, they willingly choose to increase their own visibility, and thus, the level of scrutiny of their actions (as do all public officials).

Your mileage may vary on this subject.

J. M. Schneider December 22, 2010 9:25 PM

Mea Culpa – My editor informs me that failed to parse my statements properly in my prior post, making them difficult to digest.

In short (for those who suffered through it and didn’t quite get my meaning):
A) LAWS are proscriptive. (e.g. We shouldn’t have to explicitly give a freedom to do something.)
B) LEOs and other public figures should not be shielded by the same proscriptions that protect the public, as they chose to be public figures.
C) If you figure out how to prevent the potential for abuses of the legal process due to ambiguities, you’re probably F. Lee Bailey.

Frances December 22, 2010 10:33 PM

One person has mentioned the problems we in Toronto had when the police over-reacted to protesters during the G20 meeting in June. A great many people were very upset by the violence but were getting nowhere until the Toronto Star decided to stir things up. Videos were found and, finally, a police officer has been charged. Goodness knows what will come of that but we got this far with the help of videos shot by bystanders without which nothing would have happened. If you want to know more, visit the Star’s website.

becauseyoumademechoosesomething December 22, 2010 10:50 PM

All government officials who serve the interests of the people so governed, are compelled and required to wear a shoulder mounted audio/video etc recording device that shall be operated for the full duration of the function so which they were duly elected, appointed or otherwise stationed.

Anything less is oppression and censorship of truth and fairness. Citizens are recorded, but really it should be the government instead.

Nick December 22, 2010 11:27 PM

Is this guy an idiot? He wants have police run around with no oversight and unlimited authority? Why would anyone want this? So far as I can tell is most of the crime that happens today is caused by police. This would only make it 10 times worse. This is the stupidest thing I ever heard of. We need to Decrease police power and Get them off the streets.

Nick December 22, 2010 11:29 PM

Sorry in my above comment I thought he wanted a law AGAINST recording the police. That is the kind of nonsense I usually hear.

Danny Bisaerts December 23, 2010 3:01 AM


There is also something as “fair use”.

I think it is good that the public can record actions of police or government officials which are a bit of track.

Remember the Rodney King affair ?

This would probably have gone unpunished when no videotape was brought out to the media.

I guess this is not what we want either. So for me, the aspect of “fair use” of images comes into view.

I do not have any problems whatsoever with the fact that we photograph or videotape police or government officials as long as they are in the public open space where they are visible to everybody else.

I agree with Bruce that this is one of our basic rights which we should be able to use whenever we see fit. It only opens up democracy.

But being European, I might have a slightly different view than most US citizens here 🙂

Kind regards,
Danny Bisaerts

Voter December 23, 2010 4:06 AM

Only criminal cops object to being filmed!

They should all be drug tested and psychologically evaluated on a regular basis too.

painting course December 23, 2010 4:34 AM

If there were a law which made it explicitly legal to film an officer, then I believe it would great to see a second law which would make it illegal for an officer to block or shield someone from filming. We see this all the time, anytime there is an altercation, two or three police officers will walk up to the man with the camera and block his view. In more extreme cases you can see all over youtube the police actually shout “stop filming” or “get the camera!”. I think these sort of actions should be considered civil rights violations (if filming government officials were a civil right). Another thing to consider is that as technology progresses we’ll probably all end up having some sort of dashcam recording device installed in all new vehicles in ten years. The current trend is towards more cameras everywhere, both state controlled, and privately controlled. I don’t think that there will be anything to reverse this trend.

Steve December 23, 2010 5:31 AM

AIUI the police in the USA owe no duty of protection to the public at all. That “To serve and protect” is a clear and patent lie. Which raises two questions. 1) Whose duty is it to protect the public ? It is the public’s own duty I hazard and 2) What is the duty of the police exactly ?

Erik Norgaard December 23, 2010 8:46 AM

Right to record, certainly, anyone should have the right to collect evidence that can support their case or shed light on government and officials abuse of power.

Right to publish, not so fast – that would assume that people would respect the democratic rules to bring the government and officers acting on behalf of the government to justice.

Public officers have the same right to legal protecting, protection of their private life etc. Unfortunately, I’ve seen far to many examples of people recording part of an incident, publishing and ranting about what they perceive as injustice and creating a mob that will bring the responsible to justice out of court. That does not necesarily mean physical punishment or revenge. It can be rumors that render the private lives of the affected ruined.

john Washburn December 23, 2010 10:16 AM

For those against recording the police (any agent of the state acting in their official capacity) based on some notion of police privacy, can you answer this question:

For a public official on a public road performing the duties of their public office while be being paid with public monies How, When, and Where does an “Expectation of Privacy” attach?

The defense here should be the notion that a police officer on a public road doing his public revenue gathering for the public coffers is in some way a private thing.

Clive Robinson December 23, 2010 4:17 PM

@ J.Horemans, Frances,

With regards G20 please bear in mind what happened in Canada in context with waht happened to an inoccent and univolved newspaper seller (Ian Tomlinson) in London on his way home to his family. He had simply enquired if he could go home and when told no he had turned and was quietly walking away with his hands in his pockets and was thus not a threat of any kind to anybody.

For his reward he was severly beaten from behind by a member ot the Met Police’s “Territorial Support Group” and died at the scene within a very very short time (before he could be taken away in one of the many ambulances there).

Although this apparent serious assult was reported in the press the Met Police effectivly lied about it untill video footage turned up showing what had happened.

Then to make matters worse the Independent Police Complaints Commision (IPCC) said they had asked the “City Of London Police” to independently investigate even though the attack had effectivly occured in their back garden.

Unfortunatly for the IPCC as many knew the Met Police TSG officer was actually flanked by two City of London Officers at the time of the attack as was evidenced by the video. Which made the City Police involved not independant and the IPCC should have known this before making the anouncment.

Then there was a conspiracy of silence amongst all the Police officers at the scene and generalised heal draging etc.

It was only after a considerable press campaign involving an ex senior policeman, that the political preasure became such that the police had no choice but to reveal who (PC Simon Harwood) had beaten Ian Tomlinson from behind in a compleatly unprovoked attack.

Worse the first pathologist, (Dr Freddy Patel) claimed quite incorectly that Ian Tomlinson had died from a heart attack brought on by coronary artery disease (and compleatly missed internal bleading due to ruptures in the liver), and had thus ‘died of natural causes’, thus there was no case to be answered.

Such a political stink was kicked up that a second autopsy was carried out that concluded that Ian Tomlinson had died from serious internal bleeding caused by a blunt force trauma to the abdomen. An injury you might well expect from the way PC Harwood had thrown Mr Tomlinson to the ground.

The death from internal bleading was later confirmed by a third autopsy carried out by PC Harwood’s defence team. So there was little doubt about death caused by internal injury. A death that occured within minutes of PC Harwood’s violent and unprovoked attack on Mr Tomlinson (about the same length of time you would expect from the injuries).

[Please note that the Police have through the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) managed to get several murder and manslaughter convictions after less violent attacks when the victim had died at a time considerably (several weaks) after they where attacked.]

The first patholagist (Dr Patel) was later suspended for three months in August 2010 for “deficient professional performance” in several unrelated cases (in other words he had shown himself to be not competant to give expert testomy in court on several occasions).

However the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced in July 2010 that no charges would be brought, because medical disagreement about the “cause of death” (from first autopsy). The CPS said it meant prosecutors could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was a causal link between the death and the alleged assault.

[ The CPS said this even knowing that Dr Patel was being investigated for incompetance on several other cases he had been involved with].

Thus PC Harwood did not face a criminal trial and lots of unpublished evidence has therefore remained hidden.

You would be forgiven for concluding there “is one law for them (the authorities) and one law for (the rest of) us” based on just this one case alone.

However as we know the Met’s TSG like their firearms teams have a long checkered and more than somewhat dubious past.

If you want to know more about Mr Tomlinson’s very sad and premature demise from significant internal injures so shortly after the violent unprovoked assults by the Met Police and PC Harwood in particular then,

And whilst you read it spare a thought for
Mr Tomlinson’s family.

FittedUp December 23, 2010 9:38 PM

The UK has very in-your-face Police teams, with individual and groups of Officers carrying multiple cameras and videos, backed up by drones and helicopters. They are called Forward Intelligence Teams and they are independently monitored by the likes of FITwatch

From past experiences, this is a snapshot of what student activists might expect from ‘improved’ intelligence and data gathering:

• Having to run a gauntlet of police and police cameras just to get to a planning or preparation meeting, never mind a demo;
• FIT teams ‘accompanying’ known activists on demonstrations, even to the point of following them back to their family home, place of work, or in one well documented case to their grandmothers nursing home;
• Thousands of students’ names and details placed on Criminal Intelligence or Domestic Extremism databases;
• Finding a police officer you’ve never seen before knows your name and personal details about you;
• A range of ‘disruption’ activities, to undermine and make life difficult for organisers and activist groups including excessive stop and searches (often many times in one day) and arbitrary arrests. This can also include undercover police officers getting involved with and disrupting activist meetings
• Trolling of websites with a targeted police ‘message’;
• Kettles, kettles and more kettles – they are so useful for data gathering, and for disrupting protest;
• Stop and search, breach of the peace arrests, and accusations of ‘anti-social behaviour’, all tried and trusted methods of getting the personal details of protesters

Kered Retej January 4, 2011 4:32 PM

Is the Jeremy Marks incident relevant here? There are differing accounts of what happened, but I think everyone agrees that he was filming the police on his phone.

Frieda July 18, 2011 6:48 PM

Do you realize that taxpayers are paying thousands of dollars to enable police cars to all have video cameras on their police cars?
Yet, we, the public, supposedly have no right at all, and can be jailed if we, likewise, videotape the police?
Why is this now? The police don’t really want us to see how they’re behaving? Why would that be? The police officers are not upholding the laws and breaking them themselves?
I think the last sentence is very true. I’ve seen so much police brutality, corruption, civil rights violation, I could make a movie out of it!
Hey, let’s start a website and post all the things you’ve seen with your own two eyes, the police doing, that actually violating someone’s civil rights.
We could call it, The Police Can Do No Wrong? Get Real!
They’re on their way to actually passing a law in the United States in the state of Connecticut that allows citizens to record the police when they’re performing their duties as police officers.
Hurray! And the police are all griping about it too. However they just had an investigation this year, where a Granby, CT police had run over a 15 year old on a bike, while the cop was drinking drunk, going 70 mph in a 35 mph speed limit, hit the boy, and then the police officers didn’t even bother to perform an alcohol test on the cop who ran over the 15 year old. Course, the cop’s dad, was another police officer on the force.
Finally a state senator, by the name of Gail. Don’t know her last name took part in the investigation which had the officer arrested and charged with manslaughter.
Here’s the story: Neither Michael Koistinen, the fired police officer accused of manslaughter in the death of a 15-year-old bicyclist, nor his father, accused of trying to aid in a cover-up, are concerned about the fact they were briefly represented by the same lawyer.

Attorney Elliot Spector represented Michael Koistinen in November when he was charged with manslaughter in the death of Henry Dang of Windsor Locks. Attorney Raymond Hassett took over the case in January, around the time Sgt. Robert Koistinen was charged with hindering prosecution.

All four men appeared before Judge David P. Gold on the matter Thursday during a hearing that lasted less than a half hour.

Gold wanted to make sure both men know the risks of having shared the same lawyer, and that neither will try to claim there was a conflict of interest. Each is signing a written statement to that effect.

The judge cited the Rules of Professional Conduct, which discourage lawyers from representing a client if that representation might be affected by their allegiance to another client or former client.

“In the event of a conviction, the difficulty of making a complaint about a conflict in representation would be difficult to make because of the waiver today,” Gold told Robert Koistinen.

Spector said outside the courtroom that even though he had represented Michael Koistinen when he was arrested and now represents Robert Koistinen, there is no conflict in the case.

He represented both men for only a few days before Hassett took over Michael Koistinen’s case, he said.

Michael Koistinen, who police say was driving the car that struck and killed Dang on Oct. 29, faces manslaughter and other charges. His father is accused of attempting to shield his son — who state police said had been drinking before the collision with the bicyclist — from prosecution. Robert Koistinen was the first supervisor on the scene.

A state police investigation determined Michael Koistinen spent hours before the crash drinking alcohol at a tailgating party outside a University of Connecticut football game at Rentschler Field in East Hartford and then at a Suffield bar.

Michael Koistinen was driving at least 73 mph in a 35 mph zone when he struck Dang, a state police accident-reconstruction team estimates.

State police also allege that the elder Koistinen shielded his son from scrutiny at the crash scene by driving him back to the police station three times in his SUV. They returned to the scene the third time only minutes before a Suffield ambulance arrived to take Michael Koistinen to the hospital.

Once at the hospital, Robert Koistinen stopped an officer from a regional accident reconstruction team from entering his son’s room. He told the officer that Michael Koistinen would not be taking a blood test, state police said.

Robert Koistinen is on paid administrative leave and is being paid his salary of $73,385. Michael Koistinen was fired by the town’s police commission on Dec. 8.

Michael Koistinen is charged with two counts of manslaughter, misconduct with a motor vehicle, negligent homicide and criminal attempt to commit tampering with evidence.

His father is charged with hindering prosecution and interfering with police.

The next court date for both men is July 21.

Peter E Retep October 18, 2011 8:47 PM

Yesterday in L.A.: A Metro bus driver threatened
to de-bus a passenger with an i-phone if
the passenger was taking an image
of the bus driver driving while getting on the bus.

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