Power, oversight, and photography

As this disturbing alleged situation demonstrates, you may be ordered at some point to delete photographic or videographic evidence of an event without appropriate justification.

While there may be situations in which security concerns are justifiably paramount, there are also many situations in which those who have authority simply wish to avoid facing any accountability for their actions. Given the conflict of interest involved for those law enforcement officers on the scene, it seems prudent to retain any photographic or videographic evidence you have produced, even if you are asked by them to delete it.

After all, any impartial evidence that exists can only help in any subsequent official proceedings. The absence of such evidence is likely to strengthen the bias of impartial adjudicators towards those with authority, as opposed to those who simply happened to be witnesses.

Prior relevant posts:

[18 December 2008] Zoom has posted an update about this matter.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

20 thoughts on “Power, oversight, and photography”

  1. As far as I understand, that police officer was acting outside his sphere of authority. The fact that tall men with badges can infact make you do things does not itself mean they have legal justification to do these things.

    It’s not that interesting that the police break rules, they do so all the time. Sometimes death is the result. What’s interesting is doing something about it, like explicitly saying it on a blog, and maybe spawning a protest which would draw news coverage and the need for an official response and apology.

  2. Tristan,

    I am not sure if you followed the link above, but that is precisely what Zoom is doing.

  3. I heard stories like this all the time from other Quebec city protesters. The big media companies never went near the rough parts of the protest and therefore did not get much coverage of police brutality. The small independent ones got picked on, ordered to leave, arrested, etc…I met one who was shot with rubber bullets for recording police brutality. I was in the medium-risk areas and saw some aggressive cop behaviour, one person getting swarmed, excessive and unstrategic use of teargas and water cannons, eye-wash tents being ordered to shut down, and actually I suspect based on some incidents that while hundreds of legal protesters were arrested, the police intentionally let the real criminals (vandals, molotov-throwers) stay on the streets.

    That was before the age of YouTube and cell phone cameras. I think if the same thing had happened today there would have been more acknowledgement of unlawful behaviour on the part of police and media.

  4. I applaud Zoom’s actions regarding the bully police officer. However, I do think that the blog description is more than enough to get the idea about what occurred.

    Is putting someone’s life to risk by circulating images of him/her on the internet worth the gratification of blog-world show and tell? It’s possible that this officer has been in extremely vulnerable circumstances (undercover in a gang, etc.) and this is the sort of thing that could put his life in danger.

    I suppose the question is whether it’s worth putting a police officer’s (or anyone’s) life to risk to emphasize a point already made in the text of a blog post.

  5. Police wanted photos erased, blogger claims
    By Neco CockburnDecember 17, 2008

    “Ottawa police Chief Vern White has ordered a review after a blogger alleged being ordered by an officer to stop taking photographs of an arrest in Centretown.

    The blogger, who goes by the pseudonym Zoom, claims to have come across three officers arresting a woman near Hartman’s grocery store, on Bank Street near Somerset Street, on Monday afternoon.”

  6. “Chief White said he had no problems with photographs he saw posted, which include a male officer kneeling beside the woman, who is lying on the ground while three or four other officers look on, and a paramedic and police officer tending to the woman while a pair of male officers look toward the camera.”

  7. “Is putting someone’s life to risk by circulating images of him/her on the internet worth the gratification of blog-world show and tell? It’s possible that this officer has been in extremely vulnerable circumstances (undercover in a gang, etc.) and this is the sort of thing that could put his life in danger.”

    Emily, this is a very serious question, but the answer is totally obvious. The dillema seems to be between the public’s duty to keep the police in line, conflicting with possibly damaging the police’s ability to do its job. But it’s clear which is worse – a slightly less effective in specific circumstances and yet just police force, or one with slightly greater capability and yet corrupt, bullyish, unjust. Which state would you want to live in?

  8. My argument isn’t that we shouldn’t call them on it. I think that Zoom standing up to a violation of her rights is admirable. My question was whether we can justify putting a real individual’s life at risk for the sake of emphasis and demonstration, when the point was clearly made in the blog text.

  9. Without the photos, the blog text would lack credibility.

    Admittedly, the photos could have been conveyed privately to the people now conducting the investigation, but without the discussion created by the public blog posts and photos, there may never have been an investigation to begin with.

  10. “a real individual’s life at risk for the sake of emphasis and demonstration, when the point was clearly made in the blog text.”

    If the question is whether we can put an individual police officer’s life at risk for the sake of keeping the police the purveyors of justice, then absolutely the answer is yes.

  11. “Photographer Duane Kerzic was standing on the public platform in New York’s Penn Station, taking pictures of trains in hopes of winning the annual photo contest that Amtrak had been running since 2003. Amtrak police arrested him for refusing to delete the photos when asked, though they later charged him with trespassing.

    Obviously, there is a lack of communication between Amtrak’s marketing department, which promotes the annual contest, called Picture Our Trains, and its police department, which has a history of harassing photographers for photographing these same trains.”

  12. Another London photographer arrested for “terrorism” (i.e. “taking a picture of a public building”)

    By Cory Doctorow on Photo

    A photographer who spent his whole life photographing and painting around his home neighbourhood of Elephant and Castle in London was arrested under anti-terror laws and jailed, his DNA and fingerprints taken. He was released after five hours, once his Member of Parliament intervened. Under current policies, his DNA will remain on file forever — though the EU has ordered Britain to cease this practice.

  13. UK to introduce “photograph a cop, 10 years in jail” law

    By Cory Doctorow on Photo

    The new set of rules, under section 76 of the 2008 Act and section 58A of the 2000 Act, will target anyone who ‘elicits or attempts to elicit information about (members of armed forces) … which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’.

    A person found guilty of this offence could be liable to imprisonment for up to 10 years, and to a fine.

  14. Motorcyclist Wins Taping Case Against State Police

    “Slashdot readers may recall the case of a Maryland motorcyclist (Anthony Graber) arrested and charged with wiretapping violations (a felony) when he recorded his interaction with a Maryland State Trooper. Today, Judge Emory A. Pitt threw out the wiretapping charges against Graber, leaving only his traffic violations to be decided on his October 12 trial date. ‘The judge ruled that Maryland’s wire tap law allows recording of both voice and sound in areas where privacy cannot be expected. He ruled that a police officer on a traffic stop has no expectation of privacy.’ A happy day for freedom-loving Marylanders and Americans in general.”

  15. Video and human rights
    Visibility before all
    Live video is now on tap from almost anywhere. Both the benefits and drawbacks are unpredictable

    SYRIA is off-limits to journalists, especially those toting television gear. But the daily protests in the Damascus suburb of Hamoryah can be watched live on Ustream—and uploaded by locals using mobile phones. When the Libyan regime banned foreign reporters at the start of last year’s uprising, a businessman called Mohammed Nabbous, who had previously installed commercial-satellite kit, set up camera feeds to the Livestream site. These were for a time the sole source of television-news pictures from Libya (he was later killed while reporting). Another video-streaming site, Bambuser, hosted more than 100,000 broadcasts from the Middle East and north Africa in 2011.

    Technology turns anyone with a modern mobile phone into a cameraman—and international broadcaster. This is shaking up newsgathering. During the protests against election fraud in Iran in 2009, Access Now, a human-rights group that is adept with technology, received videos that showed many thousands on the streets, whereas CNN, wary of “unofficial” sources, used government-approved footage that made the protests seem far smaller. Now CNN’s “iReport” web page features viewers’ pictures alongside the network’s own; other news channels also often use amateur footage in their reports.

    More exotic technology is looming too. Drones that cost only a few hundred dollars, such as the Parrot Quadricopter, can take aerial pictures: these once required an expensive helicopter. Organisers of Occupy protests in America have used these gadgets to spot weaknesses in police lines.

  16. Photographing and filming police officers in Canada

    The Ottawa Citizen has a very good editorial on the practice of police intimidation of citizens who use their cellphone cameras and other devices to record the police.

    Here’s a summary of what Canadians should know about this:

    * There is no law in Canada that prevents a member of the public from taking photographs or video in a public place (other than some limitations related to sensitive defense installations);
    * There is no law in Canada that prevents a member of the public from taking photographs or video of a police officer executing his or her duties in public or in a location lawfully controlled by the photographer (in fact, police officers have no privacy rights in public when executing their duties);
    * Preventing a person from taking photos or video is a prima facie infringement of a person’s Charter rights;
    * You cannot interfere with a police officer’s lawful execution of his or her duties, but taking photos or videos does not, in and of itself, constitute interference;
    * A police officer cannot take your phone or camera simply for recording him or her, as long as you were not obstructing;
    * These privileges are not reserved to media — everyone has these rights;
    * A police officer cannot make you unlock your phone to show him or her your images; and
    * A police officer cannot make you delete any photos.

    Yes, you can photograph or video police in public in Canada

    Watching the watchmen

    The fact is, police have no sweeping authority under Canadian law to order people to stop taking pictures or videos of them in public or confiscate their devices without a court order. Certainly, police can arrest anyone who wilfully obstructs them while taking pictures, but even then they have no automatic right to seize the device, much less delete its contents.

    Unfortunately, say observers, too many police think otherwise. And even if they know better, they too often use the excuse of obstruction and the threat of arrest to cover their illegal demands.

    “Increasingly, people are being arrested, charged or even assaulted by police officers, merely for attempting to take photos or videos of officers at work,” says lawyer Karen Selick, who wrote on the topic last week in the National Post. “Often, police simply command people to stop photographing. Scared into thinking they must be breaking some law, citizens comply.”

    “Police are being caught on camera and they don’t like it,” says Carleton University criminologist Darryl Davies. “But contrary to what the police may feel about the use of this technology to record their activities, there is no restriction on people taking pictures.”

    “There is nothing in the Criminal Code that would directly prohibit someone taking pictures of officers in the performance of their duties in public,” says Abby Deshman, Director of the Public Safety Program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “They can tell you to move away but they don’t have the right to stop you taking pictures.”

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