a bird and a bottle

Finally, Some Good News for Civil Libertarians
February 15, 2007, 9:34 pm
Filed under: criminal justice, law, news, NYC

I have been searching all day for one shred of good news. And here it is:

A New York federal judge ruled today that the New York police cannot videotape people at routine public gatherings (parades, protests, critical mass bike rides).

The NY Times reports:

In [the] ruling, Judge Haight, of United States District Court in Manhattan, found that by videotaping people who were exercising their right to free speech and breaking no laws, the Police Department had ignored the milder limits he had imposed on it in 2003.

Citing two events in 2005 — a march in Harlem and a demonstration by homeless people in front of the home of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg — the judge said the city had offered scant justification for videotaping the people involved.

“There was no reason to suspect or anticipate that unlawful or terrorist activity might occur,” he wrote, “or that pertinent information about or evidence of such activity might be obtained by filming the earnest faces of those concerned citizens and the signs by which they hoped to convey their message to a public official.”

The victory was (predictably) not total — the judge said in his decision that critical mass bike rides, at which participants sometimes break traffic laws, would be appropriate instances for videotaping, but only if the police follow specific procedures. Up until now, the police have not been following those procedures or getting the required permits.

On first read of the Times article, I wasn’t sure whether the ruling would have any teeth; would police be able to videotape virtually all parades and events since they could say that any large gathering of people might produce a violation of the law? Maybe, but another of Judge Haight’s pronouncements gives me some hope.

Permission to videotape, he wrote:

“[C]annot be stretched to authorize police officers to videotape everyone at a public gathering just because a visiting little old lady from Dubuque (to borrow from The New Yorker) could do so. There is a quantum difference between a police officer and the little old lady (or other tourist or private citizen) videotaping or photographing a public event.”


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Rulings lacking teeth in the defense of civil liberties are merely gum disease.

Comment by Swampcracker

yeah, it sounds good and i sure hope it works, but i think critical mass will always be screwed (in manhattan). they already have plainclothes cops riding with us and trying to infiltrate.

Comment by maxwell

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