On May 24 Brian D. Kelly of Carlisle, Pennsylvania was arrested for violating a state wiretapping law. Kelly, 18, videotaped police officers during a routine traffic stop. His camera was immediately confiscated and he was taken to jail. He spent 26 hours in county prison until his mother posted her house as collateral for his $2,500 bail.
What act was Mr. Kelly perpetrating in which the ‘great’ state of Pennsylvania saw as wiretapping?
Well, it turns out that there is an obscure state law that bars the intentional interception or recording of anyone’s oral conversation without their consent. The arrest apparently relates to the sound that Kelly’s camera picked up, not the video.
Some people would claim that ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’, but I would have to whole-heartedly disagree. How could someone possibly know that it is illegal to record an on-duty officer while on public property? It is not a law that one would assume exists based on common sense, such as murder or theft.
The only way that Kelly could have possibly known about this law would be if he actually read it. But lets be realistic, it could not honestly be expected that every citizen reads the tomes of laws that are passed, on state, local, and federal levels, every year, a process which would likely take an entire lifetime.
Kelly said that if he knew about this law before the incident occurred he would not have recorded the officers. What he does not seem to understand is that this is a law that does not make any sense and is blatantly unconstitutional. And bad laws, quite frankly, are meant to be broken.
Let me remind you of the text of the fourth amendment. It reads, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…” The word unreasonable allows for some gray area, but I am sure that most people (a jury of our peers, perhaps) would agree that it was unreasonable for the police to take his camera.
The only ‘crime’ Kelly is guilty of is recording the officers doing their jobs, an act that should never be illegal in a free society. Is it not our duty as citizens to make sure that the police — and all other government employees for that matter — are doing their jobs properly? If not, then whose responsibility is it? And who watches them?
This law is an enemy of Liberty and needs to be repealed. It may have been passed with good intentions, i.e. prevention of blackmail, but we all know how to pave the road to hell. Only Police Officers — and others who seek to abuse their powers — truly benefit from laws like this one.
Realize this: Any protest that ever takes place in Pennsylvania can not legally be recorded by bystanders. This allows the police, who can potentially abuse their power, to confiscate the cameras of anyone who records them, essentially eliminating evidence of any possible wrong doing.
We are losing civil liberties in this country everyday and — I don’t know about you — but I’m getting sick and tired of it.
If you still do not believe that the country we live in resembles a police state, I have a simple question for you: What will it take for you to open your eyes?
Yesterday they stole away habeas corpus. Today we can not record the police. Tomorrow they remove our right to a trial by jury. Then they take away our guns. What will we have then? Only a hollow shell of the republic that our Founders once envisioned.