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Sorting out rights, limits of video
With Rodney King's passing this week, it's appropriate to take a look at how the widespread use of video has changed our lives.
You will recall it was King who was videotaped as Los Angeles police beat him, then implored citizens, "Can we all get along?" when riots broke out after the police officers were acquitted. We've heard that such police beatings were not uncommon at the conclusion of high-speed chases in LA, but that stopped with the King case and the widespread use of video, not to mention YouTube.
The police were also involved in a Nebraska case taken up by the American Civil Liberties Union in a letter sent to Nebraska sheriffs and police chiefs.
According to the ACLU, 19-year-old Caitlin Hoer was arrested at a New Year's Eve party for "obstructing an officer" and her cell phone was confiscated after she recorded officers arresting her friends for underage drinking. She was given a breathalyzer test -- which recorded zero alcohol -- and charges were later dropped and her cellphone returned.
"I know police have hard jobs, but I have the right to take pictures when I'm worried about how my friends are being treated by police," she said. "Getting arrested was embarrassing, my reputation in the community was tarnished and it seemed like it was just retaliation for me standing up for my rights," Hoer said.
But what about when the tables are turned, the government is videotaping us?
U.S. Rep Adrian Smith is cosponsoring a bill which would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from conducting aerial surveillance of agricultural land when enforcing the Clean Water Act unless the agency had already obtained voluntary written consent, provided public notice or received court-ordered certification of reasonable suspicion.
The EPA admitted, only after the fact, that it was using small planes -- not drones -- to monitor runoff from feedlots, among other things.
What's the balance?
On the one hand, your mother was right; don't do anything you wouldn't want everyone to see you doing.
On the other, no one should be expected to give up all rights to privacy, whether on the job or on ones' own time.
Asking the EPA to give notice and have specific and justifiable reasons for spying from the air is only reasonable.
Confiscating video cameras and arresting law-abiding citizens who are recording law enforcement in action are not.