Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New Tool for Police, the Video Camera, and New Legal Issues to Go With It

From the NY Times: "When a man was fatally shot by a police officer on a street in Oakland, Calif., late last month, the shooting was captured by a video camera.

But the video was not taken by an alert pedestrian with an iPhone. It was recorded by a device clipped onto the police officer’s chest.

The Oakland Police Department is one of hundreds of law enforcement agencies that are trying out the body-mounted video cameras, using them to document arrests, traffic stops and even more significant encounters, like officer-involved shootings.

The cameras, legal experts say, are the latest addition in a world where everyone is increasingly watching everyone else.

The police already record illegal left turns and ignored stop signs using cameras mounted on the dashboards of cruisers — evidence displayed vividly on video screens in courtrooms, sometimes to the chagrin of drivers who have just insisted they did no such thing.

Surveillance cameras watch for shoplifters and potential terrorists. And ever since a bystander recorded Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King in 1991, video has been used by witnesses or suspects to record what they believe to be misconduct or inappropriate behavior by the police — a practice that has proliferated with the advent of smart phones.

The ubiquity of video in police encounters — some of it promptly uploaded onto YouTube — is creating new frontiers for judges and lawmakers, who must sort out the issues raised by the new technologies.

Courts in several states are considering cases where citizens who videotaped the police have been charged with violating wiretapping or eavesdropping statutes, prosecution that civil rights lawyers say violates First Amendment rights ..."

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