The Flipside of 1984: The Public Watching Big Brother

A recent post on Prawfs Blawg by Professor Howard Wasserman further explores some of the questions raised in my post, Searching for Both Sides of Body Slam Video, where I discuss some of the problems with videos that document forceful arrests. Prof. Wasserman's post profiles a video depicting someone being forcibly removed from a press conference by Dino Rossi, the state of Washington GOP gubernatorial candidate, and a discussion of his recent paper, "Orwells Vision: Video and the Future of Civil Rights Enforcement," that provides an analysis of the constitutional and civil rights that videos like this one may be protecting.

The video is strikingly similar to the videos I describe in my previous post on the subject: a seemingly innocent person gets forcibly dragged out of a room while a handheld video camera captures everything. The people doing the removing look fairly unreasonable and person being removed looks like a victim. Yet, similar to the videos that capture the arrests of the bicycle riders, we don't get the whole story. We can only discern from the video that the videographer may have been asked to leave the premises and told he was trespassing on private property. 

In his paper, Prof. Wasserman explores the role that videos like this may play in civil rights enforcement in a world of millions of camera phones and YouTube. On the one hand, he argues that the ability for the public to record encounters with police may in fact constrain law enforcement officials - effectively flipping the dystopian vision of Orwell's Big Brother on its head. He suggests that video and audio recordings can provide key evidence in lawsuits and as the "basis for nonlitigation remediation of any constitutional misconduct by government officials, such as settling lawsuits, disciplining offending officers, and creating or altering government policies to avoid similar misconduct in the future."

On the other hand, he notes that film theorists and law professors recognize the inherent difficulties in relying on video to provide an accurate and complete account of an incident. In all, Prof. Wasserman provides an in-depth analysis of the complex legal issues that arise when a citizen captures a forceful arrest and posts it to the Internet that is worth a read.

(Jason Crow is a second-year law student at Boston College Law School and a CMLP legal intern.)

Content Type: 

Subject Area: