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With the spread of phone cameras and pocket videorecorders, citizens around the United States have taken to recording the conduct of police. Often the conduct seems innocuous enough. But sometimes, the act of recording itself seems to send police off the deep end. ABC News’s Ray Sanchez now reports on a growing trend: police prosecuting citizens for taping them.
That Anthony Graber broke the law in early March is indisputable. He raced his Honda motorcycle down Interstate 95 in Maryland at 80 mph, popping a wheelie, roaring past cars and swerving across traffic lanes. Anthony Graber was arrested for posting a video of his traffic stop on YouTube. But it wasn’t his daredevil stunt that has the 25-year-old staff sergeant for the Maryland Air National Guard facing the possibility of 16 years in prison. For that, he was issued a speeding ticket. It was the video that Graber posted on YouTube one week later — taken with his helmet camera — of a plainclothes state trooper cutting him off and drawing a gun during the traffic stop near Baltimore.
In early April, state police officers raided Graber’s parents’ home in Abingdon, Md. They confiscated his camera, computers and external hard drives. Graber was indicted for allegedly violating state wiretap laws by recording the trooper without his consent.
Here’s Graber’s YouTube of his encounter with the Maryland policeman.
Of course the anti-wiretapping statute that the Maryland state police cite is designed to protect private persons from having their phone conversations monitored without their consent (you know, the sort of thing that the folks at Fort Meade now do routinely). The idea that it would protect a public official in the course of the performance of his duties in a public place would probably come as a shock to the legislators who authored this measure. The way the prosecutors have construed the statute, shooting ordinary news footage is turned into a criminal act.
This is an extreme example of the arrogance of power, in which a Maryland cop exercised bad judgment, was embarrassed when he was publicly exposed, and got his colleagues and prosecutors to exercise still worse judgment.
As Aristotle teaches us, in a democracy the people are entitled to throw light on the dealings of public officials to keep them honest, whereas the private dealings of the people are to be sheltered from unreasonable intrusion. In a tyranny, the officials of the government are enshrouded in secrecy but constantly invade the privacy of the common citizens. Which model does this bring the people of Maryland closer to?
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm
Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Years ago, I lived in Montana, a land of purple sunsets, clear streams, and snowflakes the size of silver dollars drifting through the cold air. There were no speed limits and you could legally drive drunk. My small apartment in Missoula had little privacy. In order to write, I rented an off-season fishing cabin on Rock Creek, a one-room place with a bed and a bureau. I lacked the budget for a desk. My idea was to remove a sliding door from a closet in my apartment and place it over a couple of hastily cobbled-together sawhorses.
Annual premium on a $6,000 life insurance policy for a champion German shepherd:
Astronomers discovered a pulsar called a superbubble, which spins 716 times per second.
Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari told reporters that his wife “belonged to” his kitchen.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”