NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 7, 2010

Anthony Graber, a motorcyclist in Maryland, posted video of an encounter with a state trooper on YouTube.  He is now facing felony charges.  His crime?  Recording a traffic stop with a video camera -- supposedly prohibited in Maryland under an archaic "antiwiretapping" statute that is well past due for a revisit by the General Assembly, says David Rittgers, an attorney and legal policy analyst at the Cato Institute. 

How is this possible, asks Rittgers: 

  • The Maryland wiretapping statute makes it a crime to record any conversation without the consent of all parties -- a "unanimous consent" law.
  • Maryland is one of a dozen states with such a statute; most jurisdictions are less strict.
  • The penalty can be up to five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.  

This boils down to "contempt of cop," as it is known in civil liberties circles.  The police are, in effect, telling Graber and anyone else who might record police activity in Maryland that they have little interest in police transparency and accountability, explains Rittgers. 

The Maryland wiretapping law is itching for an update.  The police work for the citizens of Maryland, and there is no reasonable argument that the citizens are not owed a transparent accounting of police actions funded by their tax dollars and potentially infringing on their liberties.  Prosecuting those who capture police misconduct on tape thwarts the rule of law and makes civil servants into bullies, says Rittgers. 

Source: David Rittgers, "Maryland Wiretapping Law Needs an Update," Cato Institute, June 1, 2010. 

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