Nov 1, 2011

Reversing the panopticon: police officially relaxed about being filmed

The proliferation of mobile phones is infuriating American police, who object to being filmed at work. Australian police say they're a lot more relaxed.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

In 2007, Simon Glik was walking past the Boston Common and saw three policemen forcefully arresting a young man. He took out his mobile phone and filmed the arrest. The police then arrested him and confiscated his phone. After the Boston Police Department refused to investigate his complaint against the officers, Glik sued the city. Three months ago, the US Court of Appeal finally upheld his suit.

Last year, National Guard sergeant Anthony Graber was pulled over for traffic offences by a plain clothes Maryland policeman. He filmed the encounter and posted it on YouTube, after which he was arrested, his property searched and electronic equipment confiscated. He was arraigned on charges for which he faced 16 years in prison. A Maryland court threw out all but the traffic offences.

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16 thoughts on “Reversing the panopticon: police officially relaxed about being filmed

  1. Jonathan Nolan

    It’s worth qualifying this article with the point that public transport is not “public property” – at least in Victoria. You need permission to film on train station grounds in Victoria, and police have the right to arrest you if you don’t have a permit.

  2. Meski

    @Jon: Just what I was thinking. You can expect new and interesting definitions of public real soon now.

  3. Meski

    Further, re train stations, aren’t the police being proactive in enforcing this for another government department? Will they spread this enforcement to private property, for instance a cafe, without being asked to do so by the cafe owner (or would it be the landlord of the property?) (if the latter, do you suppose the government is the landlord of all the properties its departments are on?)

  4. D

    As I understand it, filming on private property is at the discretion of the owner… however, you cannot get arrested for doing so – only removed from the premises. I don’t believe there is any law allowing confiscation of cameras or or the photos in question either.

    Obviously there are specific laws (based on knee-jerk anti-terrorism legislation) pertaining to transport infrastructure. The story in question, however, pertained to the officers mistakenly believing they had the right not to be filmed and attempting to enforce that. The revision of the charge was after the fact.


    Plainclothes police seemed to have no problem being filmed at Occupy Melbourne.

  6. Edward James

    I watched a report last week on plain clothes police using covert video equipment on drinkers in hotels. The police wanted to monitor the responsible service of alcohol.

  7. Lord Barry Bonkton

    If the police have nothing to hide ? And are doing nothing wrong , Why are they so nervous about it ?

  8. JungleDogs

    Does this report cover all recording devices, such as dictaphones?

  9. thejames

    The best resource I’ve found for the various legal questions surrounding public photography is Andrew Nemeth’s site

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