Friday, November 19, 2010

This Kind of Body Worn Video is Always Handy -- And Controversial

It's body worn video in a sense, and once again it's a hot topic: videotaping by cellphones.  With recent arrests caught on tape, videos posted to YouTube and court battles regarding felony wiretapping, we wonder -- what is the law on this prevalent feature, the pocket video camera.  A few months back we posted a blog on this same topic, which I will reprint below:


iPhones, Smartphones, Dime-sized video cameras. Even kid-focused Nintendo DS's and candy-colored Nickelodeon-character video recorders. Personal videotaping devices are more portable and easy-to-use than ever. The primary purpose of these devices -- pure entertainment (though the woman caught on tape, who attacked a McDonald's worker over morning Chicken McNuggets may think otherwise). Videotaping amongst children doing pop-a-wheelies on their bikes is one thing. But what about videotaping that is far from child's' play -- like police officer encounters?

There have been several newsworthy occurrences of alleged illegal wiretapping of police officers lately. This recent trend can be directly correlated to the smartphone craze. Always handy, the cell phone has recorded police arrests, altercations, and police interrogations that otherwise would have gone undocumented. And when the police officers realize the recording is taking place, some situations become even more argumentative.

Take Tasha Ford, for instance, a South Florida woman who was jailed for "eavesdropping" when she, along with her video camera-phone, approached police that had handcuffed her son in a parking lot for allegedly trying to sneak into a movie without a ticket. The police told her it was illegal to record someone without them being aware. She quickly responded ,"My name is Tasha Ford and I am recording you." The police abandoned the trite charge against her son, and changed their focus to Ms. Ford, arresting her under Florida's electronic surveillance law.

"What's the big deal?" one might ask. If a police officer is doing his or her duty, that officer should have no beef with the fact that a recording is being made of the actions, right? After all, police and government work for US, the people. Not the other way around. It could be argued that the more transparent and out in the open the law enforcement exchanges are, the better.

But is that what is really happening? Or are these recordings problematic under the Wiretap Act, which prohibits all wiretapping of citizens without a warrant from a three-judge court? Mostly, this Act pertains to the videotaping of private matters, and without the other person's consent. It could be argued that police matters are always public matters serving the public interest. But what about receiving their consent? It is a murky area, that has been argued under many different circumstances in many state and federal courts.

No consent was given to Anthony Graber, a Maryland National Guard officer, before he videotaped his traffic stop from his motorcycle helmet and released it onto YouTube. He is now facing up to 16 years in jail for violating the state's wiretap laws, for recording the state trooper that pulled him over, without his consent. The fact that the recording shows the trooper cutting Graber off and pulling his revolver on him during the traffic stop could have added fuel to the fire. We also don't have the context of these actions to get the whole unadulterated story of the incident -- just Graber's video portrayal.

One of the arguments against videotaping of police activities by civilians is that no one can be sure that the original recording has not been altered after the fact. Editing software is just as easy and commonplace as the video recording devices themselves. It wouldn't take much for a grudge-wielding accessory to a crime, or any editing novice to completely change the sentiment or "evidence" within the recording, and then release it to news organizations to influence an ongoing investigation.

The major point seems to be the potential inconsistencies and varying points of subjective views that one civilian's video may have toward a police officer or ongoing case. And it seems the only satisfactory way to deal with these issues is to continue barring civilians from filming and capturing police scenes themselves. A government-sanctioned, police-endorsed product that records, that cannot be overridden or edited, and that expertly captures the entire encounter, both video- and audio-wise, needs to be the only acceptable media for such endeavors.

Hunter Systems Group's body worn video recorder, Hunter iCapture(TM) does just that. Its high quality picture, audio and remote operating capabilities make it a best-in-class alternative to grainy, inaudible and indecipherable recordings by civilians or lesser products. It's worn comfortably by officers in any situation, whether a routine traffic stop or a more active S.W.A.T-scenario, and is not susceptible to any after-the-fact rogue editing.

Because it is password-protected and technologically superior to any other handheld or personal video recording mechanism in existence, there is no reason to use anything but Hunter iCapture. Additionally, the camera device may be mounted in the police cruiser as an in car video or may easily be detached to act as a body worn video recorder. The more universal the operating system for police departments, security organizations, border patrols, and any other crime-prevention entities, the better and more useful the evidence.

If police wear these types of cameras, citizens like Ms. Ford and Mr. Graber wouldn't feel the need to pirate their own recordings, getting themselves into even more trouble than the initial instigation. In the meantime, let's save the iPhone and handheld cameras for what they were intended --the birthday parties and pop-a-wheelies. And the occasional drive-through debacle. 


To read the latest news on this topic, please visit this link.

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