There was a victory for photographers rights this week when a Maryland judge dismissed several charges against a man who shot video of a police stop and posted the footage on YouTube. After discovering the video online, police arrested the man and charged him with violating wiretapping laws as well as a law that prohibited videotaping of traffic violations.
In his ruling, Judge Emory Plitt, Jr. dismissed four counts against citizen photographer Anthony Graber III, stating, “Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public. When we exercise that power in public fora, we should not expect our actions to be shielded from public observation.” (State v. Graber, No. 12-K-10-647 at 18-19 (Cir. Ct. Harford County Sept. 27, 2010).
First, Judge Plitt ruled that the wiretapping statute only prohibits the recording of a private conversation. Then he concluded that the conversation between the trooper and Graber was not private. “[T]he recorded audio exchange between the Defendant and the Troopers was not a private conversation as intended by the statute.” Maryland wiretapping statute requires consent of both parties to record a private conversation. However, it “specifically restricts the interception of an oral communications to words spoke in a private conversation.” (Id. at 5-6)
The court then went on to elaborate on prior cases from over a dozen other jurisdictions which have concluded that a police officer performing his official duties does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
In total, the court dismissed three counts on statutory grounds and went on to address a fourth count, which required a person to get permission from the government before filming certain traffic violations such as reckless driving. Judge Plitt found it unconstitutional under both the Maryland and U.S. constitutions for the state to require a photographer to seek permission before videotaping a traffic violation in a public forum.
Read the opinion here.