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July 27, 2010

Is Photography in Public Illegal?

Well a lot of police and security guards would like you to think so.

Here's a case out of Maryland where a man is facing 16 years in prison for violating Maryland's wiretapping laws. His crime - videotaping a MD State Trooper in plain clothes pulling a gun on him and giving him a ticket.

Back on March 5th Anthony Graber was riding his motorcycle with a videocamera attached to his helmet on I-95 and when he exited the interstate a car suddenly pulled in front of him and a man jumped out with his gun pulled. That man turned out to be an off-duty State Trooper in civilian clothes and in his personal vehicle. He identified himself and gave Graber a ticket (which he clearly deserved since he had reached speeds up to 127mph during his filming). Afterwards Graber posted the video on YouTube.

Ten days later when the officer found out about the video, the state police got an arrest warrant for Graber and raided his house early in the morning seizing all computers and video cameras. He's now facing up to 16 years in prison for taping the encounter. Apparently Maryland is one of the few states that requires approval of both parties being recorded and that's the basis for charging him with wiretapping.

Update: Progressoverpeace notes that it's the audio - not the video - that makes the state's wiretapping law apply.

Here's the video in question

So a couple of points -

1. He was clearly speeding and so deserved the ticket. It would be interesting to see what speed the officer wrote him up at.
2. The officer didn't identify himself until he was right up to the driver. I don't know what the standard police procedures are but if Graber had pulled his own weapon or fled, I would have considered that reasonable behavior under the circumstances. I'm guessing the trooper screwed up which is why he wanted the video removed.
3. It's hard to argue that the recording was surreptitious when the GoPro helmet camera was clearly visible and the officer approached the driver against his will in a public place. So the whole case seems to just be an example of police harassment.

And here's Glenn Reynolds' view on the case and harassment against public photography in general.

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posted by Maetenloch at 08:21 PM

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