The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Pennsylvania resident Gregory Rizer, who was arrested in January for recording a police officer aggressively questioning his quadriplegic friend. The officer also confiscated Rizer’s cell phone.
When Rizer complained to the mayor’s office about the arrest, the Point Marion Police Department arrested him at home and charged him with violating Pennsylvania’s wiretap law, which bans audio recording unless all parties consent. The district attorney has since removed the charges and returned Rizer’s cell phone – without the recording. The ACLU argues that Rizer was within his rights to record the officer because “the state’s Wiretap Act does not apply if the person being recorded does not have a reasonable ‘expectation of privacy.’” ACLU cooperating lawyer Glen Downey explained,
“The explosion of technology that allows almost every citizen to document and record the interactions between police and civilians makes it incumbent that both the officers and those seeking to record them understand that officers cannot shield themselves from public scrutiny by invoking wiretap laws. Police officers performing their official duties do not possess the requisite reasonable expectation of privacy necessary to be covered by the statute.”
There have been reports from across the country of police officers interfering with cell phone recording of their actions. Earlier this month, the New York City Police Department put out a flyer warning against a couple who record “stop-and-frisk” searches in the city. New York’s ACLU chapter released a phone app, “Stop-and-Frisk Watch,” to help New Yorkers hold police officers executing these controversial searches accountable.
Last week, New Jersey’s ACLU chapter released a similar app, “Police Tape,” an Android phone app that allows users to discreetly videotape and record police officers. The app also explains American civil rights and allows users to send recordings to ACLU databases for backup storage.