Photography Is Not A Crime

It would appear that there’s a rebellion going on in Illinois. Illinois is one of the few states that will bring felony charges against people who record cops. Earlier this year, a jury basically nullified that law when they refused to convict a woman who recorded internal affairs cops pressuring her to drop a harassment complaint. Now … this:

An Illinois judge ruled the state’s eavesdropping law unconstitutional as applied to a man who faced up to to 75 years in prison for secretly recording his encounters with police officers and a judge.

“A statute intended to prevent unwarranted intrusions into a citizen’s privacy cannot be used as a shield for public officials who cannot assert a comparable right of privacy in their public duties,” the judge wrote in his decision dismissing the five counts of eavesdropping charges against defendant Michael Allison.

“Such action impedes the free flow of information concerning public officials and violates the First Amendment right to gather such information,” he wrote.

Damn. Fucking. Straight.

We have to enjoy our small victories like this; they don’t come often. But a strong consensus is building for the digital age among conservatives, liberals and everyone in between: photography is not a crime. You have the right to record public officials when they’re acting badly. And they don’t have the right to shut you up.

Start scattering, guys. The lights are going on.

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  1. CzarChasm

    Hallelujah! Hard to believe there’s a judge in Illinois with that much constitutional credibility.

    This is a subject that is very near and dear to my heart. I have carried some kind of video recording device with me for years now. I don’t go looking for cops per se. In fact, my goal is to one day have some footage of some news event that makes my hobby of recording random events into a money-making proposition when I’m the only one at the right place at the right time with a recording device. I rarely encounter cops myself because I’m law-abiding and drive like exactly what I am, an old fart, so my penchant for recording things has yet to present a problem for me. But the laws where I live are very ambiguous as far as recording goes. Two clauses of one law regarding one-party knowledge are contradicted by one clause of a later law requiring two-party consent, but the later one does not specifically supersede the older one the way it’s written, so cops and prosecutors can pretty much take their choice on how to interpret it. As much recording as I do, I’m bound to come up against that conundrum sooner or later, unless of course, some brave soul like the guy in Illinois manages to have our laws clarified through a court action here.

    Recording LEOs of various descriptions is becoming more important as the Constitution is rendered less and less meaningful in any adherence or enforcement sense by them and the courts. One doesn’t even have to dig deep in YouTube or LSM archives to find voluminous examples of TSA abuses, from quasi-sexual assaults to warrantless searches that have exactly zero probable cause as a basis. There’s a lot going on much more under the radar though, and one of the most egregious violating agencies is the Border Patrol. Search YouTube for “Border Patrol abuse” or something similar, and see how many people are forced by the power of the .fedgov to relinquish their 4th Amendment rights for nothing more than driving on a public highway. And if they’re videotaping, one might think that would put the agents on their best behavior. Sometimes it does, but just as many times, it sends them into a rage that results in not only power abuses, but physical abuses of citizens as well.

    I’m glad one judge in Illinois got it right this one time, but I don’t see that ruling making any significant difference in how LEOs are treated by their non-offending colleagues with cover and silence. People who claim to be “pro-police” or whatever, often dismiss the offenders as isolated incidents, and go on to claim that most cops are good cops. Well, I can link to literally an unlimited number of videos where one or two cops engage in an actual unlawful beating or violate somebody’s rights or what have you, and there are almost always a bunch of cops who see it happen and let it happen and never testify or inform their superiors about what happened, and even lie or “adjust” their testimony in court to get the offenders off the hook. The “Code Of Silence” has a name for a reason; it exists, and it is nearly impenetrable. It’s going to take a lot more than one case in Illinois that came out right before I can take any solace in a reversing trend. A lot more.

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  2. Tripper

    That’s a good result in IL, but like CzarChasm, I’m not convinced that it’s indicative of the direction many states are heading.

    In the last few months we’ve also seen a couple of state legislators (in FL and IA) introducing bills to make photographing farms illegal.
    In Florida the law that was initially proposed would make it a felony to photograph a farm, even if you’re on public property when you take the photograph (or private property with the permission of the property owner) if you don’t have the permission of the farm owner.
    I believe that ultimately the first attempt to pass this in FL failed, and it later passed but with key changes, it’s no longer a felony and now only applies to instances where the photographer was trespassing on the land. Still worrying that the draconian first version was even proposed though. I’m not entirely sure how the IA one panned out.

    More details here: http://www.dvafoto.com/2011/03/two-us-states-move-to-outlaw-unauthorized-photos-of-farming-operations/

    We’ve covered states’ moves to criminalize the recording of police activity previously. Now, bills introduced in Florida and Iowa state legislatures would make photography, video, or audio recording of agricultural operations illegal without written permission of the farm’s owner. In Florida, violations would be punishable by up to 30 years in prison, according to the proposed Senate Bill 1246 (SB 1246). A similar law (HF589) passed the Iowa state House of Representatives. In a Washington Post article, agricultural industry representatives and lawmakers say the Iowa bill is intended to stop animal rights organizations from filming undercover videos that misrepresent farming operations. Wilton Simpson, a Florida farmer, says that the bill is needed to protect the intellectual property of his farming practices.

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  3. Tripper

    Thinking about this a bit more, what reason would they have to make the photography an offense even if the person was trespassing?
    Lets be clear, the fact that they are trespassing is already a crime, so there is already a law on the books for that.
    If it’s to do with protecting the intellectual property of farming practices, then isn’t there already intellectual property laws to handle it?

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  4. CzarChasm

    I’d just about bet that the reason the government would give for the restrictions has to do with terrorism. Trying to reduce the potential for poisoning the food and/or water supply, or some such nonsense. More freedom has been lost to “security” issues since 9/11 than the 200+ years of American history combined before it.

    Here’s Part 1 and Part 2 of about 25 minutes of video of a hearing impaired guy whose hobby is photographing trains. I think I recall that he was actually detained for about 45 minutes, but only included the parts of his video where the Transit Police in Baltimore were actually talking to him. I ran across this story earlier this year and thought about it while I was trying to figure out a plausible answer to your question about why they might outlaw farm photography. The guy in these two videos knows his rights and knows the law, which seems to make him even more suspect to the cops interviewing him. When I found the vids I was looking for, I noticed that there were a couple of new updates to the descriptions where the City of Baltimore has apparently promised to respect the rights of photographers from now on, but still the incident is worth a watching for the mentality of LEOs across this country regarding either being videotaped, or thinking they have the authority to prohibit videotaping for no other reason than that they just think they can throw their weight around because they wear a badge.

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