from the now-that-is-a-surprise dept.
Submitted via IRC for TheMightyBuzzard
As Tim Cushing wrote a few months back, recording the police is a complex and contentious issue in the US. But what about in China? Given the increasing clampdown on the Internet world, it's pretty easy to guess that the Chinese authorities wouldn't take too kindly to members of the public trying to hold the police to account in this way. Easy to guess -- and yet wrong, according to this story in the South China Morning Post (SCMP):
Chinese residents can now record the actions of police officers as long as it does not stop them from doing their job.
The article provides a little background to this rather surprising news:
The move is expected to help keep police in check but there were no details on how it will be enforced.
And this is why some of them clearly need to be controlled better:
Environmental scientist Lei, 29, died in police custody in May just 50 minutes after he was approached by plainclothes officers for an identification check in his neighbourhood.
At first, police said he died of a heart attack, but an autopsy report this month said he died of suffocation from gastric fluid.
The public blamed his death on police handling, with two case officers arrested on suspicion of dereliction of duty.
The Boston Globe has a story out about a ruling in US District court this week that narrows the scope of a 50-year old Massachusetts law that restricted recording of police and other government officials.
The law, and similar ones still in effect in 10 other states, was implemented long before the advent of now ubiquitous cell phones. It and similar laws criminalized recordings made of police and public officials in public even in performance of their duties, as felonies and have caught large numbers of individuals, activists, and journalists doing the same thing they always do in their net. (Most states are covered already by rulings which find such recording legal on first amendment grounds.)
But a ruling issued Monday by US District Court Judge Patti Saris found, "On the core constitutional issue, the Court holds that secret audio recording of government officials, including law enforcement officials, performing their duties in public is protected by the First Amendment, subject only to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions." And so, she added, the law "is unconstitutional in those circumstances."
The attorney general's office is reviewing the decision so challenge or appeal may still be forthcoming. However, as the Globe notes
this is one law whose time has come and gone. Challenges to the law go back to at least 2001, when a spirited dissent in a case then before the Supreme Judicial Court insisted that the "legislative intent" was to regulate government surveillance, not that of private citizens trying to monitor police conduct in a public place.
This case was clearly a win for greater transparency — and that's all to the good. It should be allowed to stand.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Maybe now we can, just a little bit more, in Massachusetts.
Good one Skippy.