Reporters working with Project Veritas often videotape public servants engaged in illegal or unethical behavior while performing their official duties. Now these citizen journalists are risking arrest and even jail time for exposing public corruption. In a disturbing new trend, law-abiding citizens are being arrested, charged with “wiretapping” and imprisoned simply for filming police officers on duty in public places.
What’s worse is that these individuals have committed no crime. Just the opposite, according to the First Circuit Court of Appeals in New England, the region’s highest federal court.
Such actions clearly represent an exercise in free speech protected by the First Amendment. Members of the Court explicitly stated this in a recent ruling that said citizens may legally videotape police officers and other public servants conducting their official duties. “The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles [of protected First Amendment activity],” said the Court. “Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting the free discussion of governmental affairs.”
Furthermore, the Court declared that, “police officers should have understood this all along” because they know that, “videotaping public officials is not limited to the press.” Yet, despite that knowledge, police and prosecutors continue to harass videographers from Massachusetts to Illinois. In Boston, for instance, police arrested a man named Simon Glik for daring to film them in the act of publicly beating a suspect.
The Daily Tech blog reported that “Glik never interfered with the police officers’ actions, but recorded the entire incident. The police officers ended up charging Glik with violating a wiretap statute that prohibits secret recording, even though the police officers admitted that they knew Glik was recording them. He was also charged with disturbing the peace and aiding the escape of a prisoner.”
All charges against Glik were eventually dropped, but it’s not hard to see the chilling effect such arrests and prosecutions could have on citizen journalism if they continue.
Frighteningly, that is precisely what many police officers and prosecutors seem to want.