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    NPPA files Amicus Brief Supporting Right to Photograph and Record Police in Public

    June 2nd, 2014 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

    The NPPA filed an Amicus Brief today in a federal civil rights lawsuit involving an Austin, Texas man, who says that police violated his constitutional right to photograph and/or film police in a public setting.

    In his complaint Antonio Francis Buehler alleged that he was arrested on a number of occasions while recording Austin Police officers performing their official duties in public places. As a result of these incidents Buehler formed the Peaceful Streets Project, a group which routinely videotapes police officers in the city.

    Buehler filed suit against the Austin Police Department and several police officers for violations of his civil rights. The defendants in the lawsuit then moved to dismiss the suit, and claimed “qualified immunity,” which protects government officials from being the subjects of lawsuits unless they have violated a clearly established constitutional right.

    “The NPPA chose to file an amicus brief so early in this case because of the extraordinary and incredulous claim by the Austin Police Department that ‘the Fifth Circuit does not recognize photographing/videotaping police officers as a constitutional right,'” said NPPA Advocacy Chair Alicia Calzada.

    The brief counters the police department’s argument that the “First Amendment right to videotape law enforcement is not a cognizable claim,” as being incorrect as a matter of law and also because it frames the issue far too narrowly.  Rather, the constitutional right to film police officers while on duty has been well established for decades through numerous constitutional decisions that protect the “coextensive” rights of journalists and members of the public to gather information and to hold government officials accountable for their actions, as the First Circuit Court of Appeals held in the 2011 case of Glik v. Cunniffe. In Glik, a citizen was arrested after using his cell phone to photograph Boston police officers he believed were using excessive force in effectuating an arrest. After his charges were dismissed, Glik filed a civil action against the Boston Police Department and won because the First Circuit observed that a citizen’s right to film police officers on duty is a “basic, vital, and well-established liberty protected by the First Amendment.”

    Several other cases have affirmed that the right to film police officers while on duty is clear and unambiguous, thus further weakening the Austin Police Department’s dubious claim. Most recently, the First Circuit reaffirmed this principle, denying qualified immunity in a case that involved videotaping police during a traffic stop in the case of Gericke v Begin. The court in Gericke explained that some constitutional principles are self-evident and do not need to have a case directly on point.

    The United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has also affirmed this right in  multiple Statements of Interest, explaining that over eighty years of precedent, going back to the 1931 case of Near v. Minnesota, stand for the proposition that “government action intended to prevent the dissemination of information critical of government officials, including police officers, constitutes an invalid prior restraint on the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

    The law is also clear that these constitutional protections apply as much to individuals as they do the institutional press, something the NPPA has consistently noted. “NPPA has always fought to uphold the right to photograph and record in public for everyone,” said NPPA Generasl Counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher. “While the press may not have any greater right of access than the public, they have no less right either and the last thing we want is for the government to be the arbiter of who is entitled to ‘Free Speech’ or ‘Free Press’ First Amendment protection,” he added.

    The amicus brief was drafted pro bono by attorneys Robert Corn-Revere, Ronald London, and Alison B. Schary, with the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, who have generously supported this and other NPPA efforts to promote and uphold the right to take pictures in public. Corn-Revere, London and Schary were recipients of the 2013 NPPA Kenneth P. McLaughlin Award of Merit for their efforts in support of the First Amendment.

     

     

     

     

    Posted in Austin Police, Boston Police, cell phone cameras, Department of Justice, DOJ, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Glik v Cunniffe, law, Lawsuit, Legal, Newsgathering, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Recording, Recording Police, Simon Glik, Texas | No Comments »

    Federal “Suspicious Activity” Reporting Initiative Threatens First Amendment Rights

    September 20th, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

    “I observed a male nonchalantly taking numerous pictures inside a purple-line train.”

    If this excerpt from a Federal “Tip and Lead” report out of Los Angeles doesn’t necessarily convince you that a crime is afoot then you’re probably not alone.  Nonetheless, that photographer, and many others like him, are now in a federal database under a plan to single out people who may be planning terrorist activity

    The problem with the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (SARI) is that many of the activities it targets seem well, unsuspicious.  Worse yet, many of those questioned under the program were engaging in activities protected by the First Amendment.  Despite revisions to try to improve the program, people are still being added to the database who appear to have been doing nothing wrong.  The offense of a man recently added to the database: being “very unfriendly.”  Another was reported for buying a large quantity of cigarettes.  Both individuals were of Middle Eastern decent.  While the language initiative specifically prohibits racial profiling, a cursory investigation of what files are available suggests people are occasionally targeted for their race.   The measure also appears to have the effect, intended or otherwise, of targeting photographers in particular.

    Today, in a continued effort to raise awareness of the program and improve its operational standards, the ACLU released a series of the federally collected reports online.  The NPPA joined the ACLU and 25 other organizations in a letter demanding reform. The groups also held a press conference in San Francisco addressing the impact of Suspicious Activity Reporting (“SAR”).

    One of the central issues with the SAR initiative stems from confusion over what behavior falls within the programs purview.  The 2009 revised standard for the Director of National Intelligence Information Sharing Environment (ISE), one of a pair of programs that make up the initiative, defines suspicious behavior as observable actions “reasonably indicative of pre-operational planning related to terrorism or other criminal activity.”  Further, the revision makes clear that “the same constitutional standards that apply when conducting ordinary criminal investigations also apply to local law enforcement and homeland security officers conducting SAR inquiries.”  The media groups applauded this as an improvement over previous versions of the program, but note that “the failure to clearly state that ISE policy did not authorize the collection, retention or dissemination of personally identifiable information in violation of federal regulations . . . has led to confusion and abuse.”

    In addition, The FBI’s eGuardian program, the other arm of the initiative, does not meet the higher standards of the ISE.  The continued reporting of non-threatening behavior suggests that this disjoint is one of the causes of the problem.

    Today’s letter also observed that “Based on the SARs obtained thus far, photography and videography are frequently reported without additional facts that render these constitutionally-protected activities inherently suspicious. This reporting trend matches anecdotal reports from photographers who frequently complain that they are not only detained and questioned, but are also prevented from taking photographs and video and deprived of their equipment by police.”

    The NPPA has been involved with dozens of similar incidents.  They are troublingly common, even without a federal program that enables, if not encourages their occurrence. “As part of the ‘See Something Say Something Program’ the NPPA is deeply concerned that these policies create an unnecessary climate of fear and suspicion throughout the country under the guise of safety and security for otherwise First Amendment protected activity,” said NPPA general counsel Mickey Osterreicher.

    Among the reforms suggested in today’s letter, the groups recommended the government “[re]move photography and other activities clearly protected by the First Amendment from inclusion in lists of SAR categories or other guidance criteria to prevent the unlawful stops, detention, and harassment of photographers, videographers, and journalists.”

    Such a revision would be a step in the right direction to ensuring valuable First Amendment activities are not illegally obstructed, and that it’s the people who are monitoring the government, and not the other way around.

    Posted in Access, ACLU, California, cell phone cameras, Department of Justice, DOJ, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Public Photography, Recording, SAR, Street Photography, Suspicious Activity, video cameras, Visual Journalists | No Comments »

    Press Groups Join in Letter of Complaint to the Vice President’s Press Office

    March 15th, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

    The National Press Photographer’s Association (NPPA) today joined with the White House News Photographers Association (WHNPA) and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) in sending a letter to Ms. Kendra Barkoff, Press Secretary for the Office of the Vice President of the United States. The letter, signed by NPPA president Mike Borland, WHNPA president Ronald Sachs, and RCFP executive director Bruce Brown, was written in response to a March 12 incident in which a journalist covering an event featuring the Vice President in Rockville, Maryland, was ordered by a Vice Presidential staff member to delete all images of the event on his camera.

    As reported by the Capitol News Service, Jeremy Barr, a member of the Capitol News Service, a student-staffed news agency run by the University of Maryland’s Phillip Merrill College of Journalism, covered an event discussing domestic violence held by Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Eric Holder and Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin. Barr stated that he “unknowingly sat in a section of the crowd designated as a non-press area” because “I didn’t see any demarcation that would have designated a press entrance versus a general entrance.” “The event began and I took a few photos of each speaker,” said Barr, as “people a few rows in front of me were also taking photos.”

    According to reports, after the event concluded Barr was approached by Vice Presidential staffer Dana Rosenzweig who asked Barr whether had taken any photos of the event. When Barr responded that he had taken photos, Rosenzweig demanded that Barr delete all images of the event from his iPhone while Rosenzweig watched, telling Barr that by sitting in the non-press area he had gained an unfair advantage over other members of the media who also attended the event. Barr complied with Rosenzweig’s request, stating that “I assumed that I had violated a protocol; I gave her the benefit of the doubt that she was following proper procedures.” Rosenzweig then ordered Barr to wait while she informed her supervisor of the incident, and after a ten minute delay Barr was permitted to leave.

    Lucy Dalglish, dean of the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism, filed a formal complaint with the Vice President’s press office, stating that “this was pure intimidation,” and that “it’s clear from the circumstance that the journalist did nothing wrong.” Poynter reported that Dalglish stated in her complaint that “Rockville is not a third-world country where police-state style media censorship is expected.” Biden Press Secretary Kendra Barkoff apologized to Barr and Dalglish in separate phone conversations shortly after Dalglish’s complaint was filed. Barkoff told Dalglish that “the incident was a total miscommunication,” stressing that “it is never the press office’s policy to request that reporters delete photos.” Barkoff declined to speak about the incident on the record with the Capitol News Service, and calls to Rosenzweig were not returned.

    In the letter to Barkoff the NPPA, WHNPA and RCFP state that “while we commend your office for immediately apologizing . . . we do not believe that such a blatant violation of free press/speech rights protected under the First Amendment should pass without comment.” The letter goes on to cite a May 14, 2012 letter from the Department of Justice to the Baltimore Police Department from a similar case which stated that “Under the First Amendment, there are no circumstances under which the contents of a camera or recording device should be deleted or destroyed.”

    The NPPA, WHNPA and RCFP concluded the letter by commenting that “In order to ensure that situations like this one do not ever happen again . . . we would like to meet with members of your staff to discuss “event” coverage from your perspective and ours.” It is the NPPA’s hope that a meeting with the Vice President’s staff will better inform staff members as to the First Amendment rights of photographers and journalists, and will prevent future incidents such as this from occurring again.

    Posted in DOJ, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Student, Vice President Press Office, Visual Journalists, White House News Photographers Association, WHNPA | No Comments »

    Rep. Nekritz Re-introduces Bill to Amend IL Eavesdropping Law

    May 8th, 2012 by Mickey Osterreicher

    Illinois Rep. Elaine Nekritz, has sponsored a new bill that would amend the draconian measures found in the state’s current Eavesdropping law. SB 1808 amends the Illinois Criminal Code concerning eavesdropping exemptions and provides that a person may record the conversation of a law enforcement officer who is performing a public duty in a public place and any other person who is having a conversation with that law enforcement officer if the conversation is at a volume audible to the unassisted ear of the person who is making the recording.

    The bill also defines “public place” and provides that if a recorded conversation authorized under this exemption is used by a complainant as part of the evidence of misconduct against a police officer and is found to have been intentionally altered by or at the direction of the complainant to inaccurately reflect the incident at issue, it must be presented to the appropriate State’s Attorney for a determination of prosecution.

    Current Illinois law permits videotaping officers in public but criminalizes the interception of oral communication (audio recording) without the consent of all parties. A conviction on such a felony charge could result in a 15 year jail sentence. Some recent prosecutions under the current law have resulted in acquittals and in others the trial court judge found the statute to be unconstitutional. Supporters of the bill believe it strikes the right balance between the reasonable expectation of privacy and the First Amendment by allowing citizens to audio record law enforcement officers performing public duties in public places.

    In a similar case, Glik v. Cunniffe,  the United States Court of Appeal for the First Circuit found the public and the press have a “co-extensive” right to record officers in public places.  In another case, Sharp v Baltimore City Police, the United States Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest in support of such recordings. The ACLU has challenged the constitutionality of the Illinois Eavesdropping statute in ACLU v Alvarez and a decision is expected by the Seventh Circuit any day. The Chicago Police Department recently announced that it would not seek to enforce the law during the NATO Summit scheduled for later this month.

    NPPA submitted Comments in support of a previous bill that recently failed in the House by 15 votes. Not surprisingly police organizations opposed that measure citing fears that people might edit or alter the recordings to use as evidence of officer misconduct. The new bill addresses those concerns. According to Rep. Nekritz, the new bill “would address some high-profile prosecutions that occurred under the existing  eavesdropping law of citizens who have done nothing more but take out their cell phones and record a police officer performing public duty.”

    The State Journal-Register, The Southern, Chicago Sun-Times, and Chicago Tribune have all written editorials in support of this measure and it is also supported by the Illinois State Bar Association, Illinois Press Association and the American Civil Liberties Union. The bill has already passed out of the Houses Judiciary Committee on Civil Law and will be brought to the floor sometime in the next few weeks.

    Posted in Access, ACLU v Alvarez, cell phone cameras, Chicago, Chicago Police, DOJ, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Glik v Cunniffe, Illinois, Illinois Eavesdropping Law, Illinois General Assemby, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Public Photography, Reasonable Expectation of Privacy, Recording, Recording Police, Rep. Elaine Nekritz | No Comments »

    NPPA Sends Letter Citing Violation of Baltimore PD Policy Concerning Recording of Police Activity

    February 14th, 2012 by Mickey Osterreicher

    The NPPA sent a letter to Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, citing an incident where a citizen recording actions by police officers on a city street was threatened with arrest if he did not leave the area. This occurred less than 24 hours after BPD released Baltimore Police Guidelines 02-13-12 (dated Nov. 8, 2011), ensuring “the protection and preservation of every person’s Constitutional rights.” The letter also requests that “this incident be fully investigated and disciplinary action taken against the officers involved should that be indicated.”

    According to press reports Mr. Cover was told by officers that “he was loitering, and that he had to move along or risk arrest.” This action appears to be in direct contravention of both the letter and spirit of a policy that was just implemented in order to preempt a lawsuit against the Baltimore Police for flagrant violations of citizens’ constitutional rights to observe and record police activity in public. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi is reported to have said, “The department waited until the process of informing and training officers was complete before releasing the November order,” but according to some it seems that time may have been spent training officers how to circumvent the policy rather than follow it.

    That General Order “requiring” certain “action” during “routine encounters with the general public” states that “upon discovery that a bystander is observing, photographing, or video recording the conduct of police activity: DO NOT impede or prevent the bystander’s ability to continue doing so based solely on your discovery of his/her presence.” “BEFORE taking any police action which would stop a bystander from observing, photographing, or video recording the conduct of police activity, Officer(s) must have observed the bystander committing some act that falls within one of the six numbered conditions listed in . . . this Order . . . ” (emphasis in the originals). And despite the fact that Mr. Cover did nothing more than record on a city street your supervisory officer orders him to move under threat of arrest.

    The letter once again pointed out that photography by itself is not a suspicious activity and “contrary to the training that was ostensibly provided over the three (3) months since the Order was implemented, it appears that the message is not being received or followed.”

    Posted in Access, Baltimore Police, Cameras, cell phone cameras, Christopher Sharp, Department of Justice, DOJ, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Maryland ACLU, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Public Photography, Recording Police, Scott Cover | No Comments »

    NPPA FIles Comments in Support of H.B. 3944 Amending the Criminal Provisions of the Illinois Wiretap Law

    February 6th, 2012 by Mickey Osterreicher

    The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) has submitted comments to the Illinois General Assembly in support of House Bill 3944. Spoinsored by Rep. Elaine Nekritz, the proposed legislation (among other things) “amends the Illinois Criminal Code and exempts from an eavesdropping violation the recording of a peace officer who is performing a public duty in a public place and speaking at a volume audible to the unassisted human ear.” 

    The current Illinois Wiretap Law makes it a felony (with a penalty of up to 15 years in jail) to audio record a police officer in public without consent regardless of whether a reasonable expectation of privacy exisited.

    The NPPA is extremely concerned that the criminal penalties under the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, 720 ILCS 5/14 (“the Act”), as applied to the audio recording of police officers, has created a chilling effect upon free speech and a free press, particularly for photojournalists, who by the very nature of their profession must operate on the front lines of news, in the middle of sometimes highly charged situations.

    NPPA joined in the amicus curiae brief in ACLU v. Alvarez, submitted by news organizations in support of the ACLU position seeking a declaratory judgment and a preliminary injunction against the application of the Act because it violates the First Amendment. Regardless of the Seventh Circuit decision in that case, which in any event may likely be appealed, NPPA is deeply concerned that daily coverage of news events, Occupy Chicago protests and the upcoming G-8 Summit may put those seeking to record these important matters of public concern at risk because of the continued enforcement of the Act. It especially disconcerting for us to think that foreign journalists covering the Summit meeting may be subject to arrest and prosecution for doing something they understandably believe to be a Constitutionally protected right throughout the United States.

    In a time of technology and terrorism, citizens and photojournalists throughout the world have risked, and in some cases given their lives, to provide visual proof of governmental activities. Sadly, what is viewed as heroic abroad is often considered as suspect or criminal at home. It is therefore incumbent upon the 97th General Assembly of the State of Illinois to immediately enact H.B. 3944.

    Posted in Access, broadcasting, Cameras, cell phone cameras, Chicago, Chicago Police, confiscated, DOJ, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Fourth Amendment, Fourth Amendment rights, G-8 Summit, H.B. 3944, Illinois, Illinois General Assemby, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Public Photography, Reasonable Expectation of Privacy, Recording Police, Regulations limiting photography, Search and Seizure, Suspicious Activity, Terrorism, video cameras, Wiretap Law | No Comments »

    New Developments in the Ongoing Assault on the Right to Photograph/Record in Public

    January 12th, 2012 by Mickey Osterreicher

    January 10, 2012 might not be a day that any real headlines were made but in the ongoing assault on the right to photograph/record in public, events took place in two separate cases that may mark the start of a change in how this issue is viewed by the courts and police. First, in the United States District Court for The District Of Maryland, the Department of Justice filed an 18 page ““Statement of Interest of The United States” ” Sharp v. Baltimore City Police, et al.

    According to the complaint, filed by the ACLU of Maryland in August 2011, “this is a civil rights action challenging as unconstitutional the Baltimore City Police Department’s warrantless arrest and detention of plaintiff Christopher Sharp, as well as the seizure and destruction of Mr. Sharp’s property, premised upon Mr. Sharp’s exercise of his rights under the federal and Maryland constitutions to document the conduct of City police officers performing their public duties in a public place.”

    That complaint which was filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City Maryland and later removed to federal court stems from an incident in which Christopher Sharp videotaped police using excessive force to effectuate the arrest of a female friend while they were in the Pimlico Race Course Clubhouse at the 2010 Preakness Stakes. Video taken of the beating by another observer can be found on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWF3Ddr7vdc.

    Sharp refused police requests to surrender his video as “evidence”, whereupon it is alleged that police “seized his cell phone, and detained him while one officer left the area with the phone. After the officers returned the phone, Mr. Sharp discovered that the officers had deleted video of the arrest and all other videos that had been stored on the device, including numerous videos of his young son and other personal events.”

    “This litigation presents constitutional questions of great moment in this digital age: whether private citizens have a First Amendment right to record police officers in the public discharge of their duties, and whether officers violate citizens’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they seize and destroy such recordings without a warrant or due process. The United States urges this Court to answer both of those questions in the affirmative” the DOJ statement read in what is believed to be the first time it has weighed in on the issue of recording police. “The right to record police officers while performing duties in a public place, as well as the right to be protected from the warrantless seizure and destruction of those recordings, are not only required by the Constitution. They are consistent with our fundamental notions of liberty, promote the accountability of our governmental officers, and instill public confidence in the police officers who serve us daily.”

    In the second case, Glik v Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78 (1st Cir. 2011) (denying qualified immunity to officer on arrestee’s First and Fourth Amendment claims), the Boston Police Department concluded an almost four (4) year internal investigation. In a letter to Mr. Glik, cell phone cinematographer Simon Glik, superintendent Kenneth Fong of the Boston Police Department’s Bureau of Professional Standards said that officers had shown “unreasonable judgment” by taking him into custody.

    By way of background – while walking through Boston Commons in October 2007, Massachusetts criminal defense attorney, Simon Glik, observed three Boston police officers attempting to arrest a suspect. After hearing another bystander say “you are hurting him, stop” and being concerned that the police were using excessive force Glik began to record the incident on his cell phone camera from about ten feet away. Once the suspect was in handcuffs one of the officers told Glik “I think you have taken enough pictures.” When Glik continued to record another officer asked Glik if he was recording audio. When Glik said yes he was handcuffed and arrested by police. The charges were unlawful audio recording in violation of  Massachusetts’ wiretap law, disturbing the peace and aiding in the escape of a prisoner. After his arrest Glik filed a complaint with internal affairs regarding the incident. The Boston Police “did not investigate his complaint or initiate disciplinary action against the arresting officers.”

    In February 2010, Glik, represented by the Massachusetts chapter of the ACLU, filed a civil right complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts against the three arresting officers as well as the City of Boston under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his First and Fourth Amendment rights. The complaint also alleges state-law claims under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 12, § 11I, as well as malicious prosecution.

    The defendants moved to dismiss under FRCP 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted and because the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. At a motion hearing the district court denied the defendant’s motion, stating that “in the First Circuit . . . this First Amendment right to publicly record the activities of police officers on public business is established.”

    In its decision the First Circuit reasoned that, given the facts in Glik, since “the qualified immunity doctrine ‘balances two important interests — the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably;’ ‘a reasonable defendant would have understood that his conduct violated the plaintiff[’s] constitutional rights.’”

    The City of Boston appealed this ruling on behalf of its officers (See:  City’s Brief and  ACLU Brief; as well as two amicus briefs: Center for Constitutional Rights and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press).

    Apparently following up on Glik’s initial 2007 complaint to police  “a department spokeswoman told the Boston Globe that the officers, John Cunniffee and Peter Savalis, now ‘face discipline ranging from an oral reprimand to suspension.’” Glik told the Globe, “As far as I knew, my complaint was summarily dismissed. . . . I was basically laughed out of the building,’’ Glik said. “From what I understand, it takes filing a federal lawsuit in order for internal affairs to review a complaint.’’

    That lawsuit and the one in Sharp now move forward with new momentum. It will also be interesting to see what impact this has on the awaited decision in ACLU v Alvarez before the Seventh Circuit. Stay tuned!

    Posted in Access, Baltimore Police, Boston Police, cell phone cameras, Christopher Sharp, confiscated, Department of Justice, DOJ, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Fourth Amendment, Fourth Amendment rights, law, Legal, Maryland ACLU, Massachusetts ACLU, National Press Photographers Association, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, Police, Public Photography, Recording Police, Search and Seizure, Simon Glik | No Comments »