Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ain't Got No Right!

Public places and words = felonies right here in your commonwealth. See MA General Laws Ch. 272 §99.

Today's news had yet another example of the abuse of recording laws here. A couple of young students in a Salem public school, apparently being bullied and at the urging of their parents, recorded in the classroom. When the administration began to listen to a recording, they were mad, but not at bullying. Instead, they told the students and parents in strong terms that this was a felony...which seems to be the current interpretation of the MA law.

That's up to $10,000 and five years in prison per offense, citizen.

A law intended to protect criminals from invasions of their civil rights has been turned on its head and spun until it's dizzy. In Boston and elsewhere here, cops have arrested citizens and even won a few convictions for being audio recorded while they were doing questionable or illegal things. Video taping still seems to have the protections of photography, but the audio portion has been jammed into 272-99.

The term invasion of privacy has real and important meanings in common parlance as well as law. However, the current MA audio-recording law is perverted so that it violates civil rights instead of protecting them. It's as though Humpty Dumpty from Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There had visited the State House — “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

This is a state matter and we are among the very worst here. Check the overview and then compare a few states. In general, audio recording parallels photography. That is, you have no expectation of invoking privacy restrictions if you are out and about in a public place holding forth.

272-99 on the face of it should do the opposite of how it too often is applied. Instead of preventing secret wire taps and other recordings, the law is also a tool of the rules-are-rules types. It's well past time to refine this travesty of a law.

Our version reads that audio recording requires permission of all parties, either explicitly or by being so obvious that everyone knows there is recording happening. That is to prevent the old FBI/Nixon-style spook work. The Citizen Media Law Project has a good recap as well.

Understandably more than just professional criminals prefer to avoid responsibility for what they say and do. Cops who far overstep the power of their badges, guns and nightsticks likewise want the freedom to lie about it if it comes to that rather than having evidence of misdoing. On a much lower level, but with the same intent, teachers and school administrators who don't want to be reasonable and to obey those troublesome behavior rules themselves eschew evidence.

Public Deeds, Public Places

Put me down on the long list of parents and plain old citizens who think we all need to be accountable for our actions and words. I find it particularly offensive that those few law-trampling police would twist this law far from its intent to break other laws with impunity.

On the street, in a church, in a school, in a restaurant and other public places should not offer screens and shields for lawbreakers...cops and teachers included. If you are speaking up and acting out where we can see and hear you, what you do should be fair game for recorders as well as cameras.

I don't know how outraged you are about this, but I feel another call and visit to a legislator coming on. I'll see what kind of tweaking this law needs to protect citizens from real privacy invasion as well as from teachers, cops and others hiding behind it.

We can all understand why teachers won't want disruptive video and audio recording. However, it is common in colleges and many high schools for serious students to record lectures as form of note taking. Here though schools can have policies limiting or even forbidding digital recorder use as they do with cellphones in class.

The idea that 272-99 precludes what everyone can see and hear in public places is an affront to each and all of us.

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