Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Police cams and public entertainment, revisited

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a supposedly fictional piece in my tymshft blog entitled "When mandatory police cams become public entertainment." Back then, as the demand for police body cams was just beginning to ramp up, I speculated about the unintended consequences.

While police webcams became more popular way back in 2014 after the Ferguson incident and the Ray Rice case, some people still felt that the police were hiding something. As the years went on, more and more police departments adopted transparency rules, and by the time that Kim and Steve were enjoying their bacon-infused lunch, several police departments were not only equipping every police officer and police car with a webcam, but were also providing real-time public access to these feeds. The goal in providing these feeds was to not only provide complete transparency into police operations, but also to educate the public on the dangers that police officers faced every day as they patrolled their communities.

As with any technological advance, however, the lofty goals of the originators were soon replaced by other goals. The streams themselves became revenue sources for the police agencies, as anyone who accessed the feeds had to sit through commercials for bail bond companies, defense attorneys, and Progressive Insurance. And the audience, rather than consisting of civil libertarians monitoring police activity, ended up as a bunch of teens watching voyeuristically.

Fast forward (or backward, if you treat my 2014 post as a message from the future). While we don't have 24/7 camfotainment just yet, we're getting there.

Country singer Randy Travis cannot stop the release of dashboard video from his 2012 DUI arrest, a Texas appeals court ruled.

Police found Travis naked and apparently drunk at the scene of a one-car accident in August 2012 near the town of Tioga, which is 60 miles north of Dallas.

Now some might say that the police were going out on a limb here. Just because a guy is involved in a one-car accident and is naked, does that necessarily mean that he was intoxicated? To these objections, I point out that his BAC was measured at 0.15.

However, it seems that the state of Texas is preserving some decency here.

The Attorney General ruled that any parts of the video that showed Travis naked from the waist down were exempt from disclosure.

So if you want to know if Travis truly is forever and ever, amen, you won't find out from the state.

There are some legal issues here, which have been present ever since the initial demands for all body cams, all the time were initially heard. And the appeals court considered them.

[Chief Justice Jeff] Rose also stated that Travis's privacy was not protected under the Fourth Amendment.

"What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection," he wrote, quoting the U.S. Supreme Court's 1967 decision in Katz v. United States.

I am not a lawyer, but this summary of Katz v. United States asserts that the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places. In short, while Katz was in a public phone booth, he was engaged in a private conversation and thus protected from "unreasonable searches and seizures." If I follow Chief Justice Rose's reasoning properly, Travis was not engaged in a private conversation, and thus was afforded no such protection.

Travis is appealing - and I am using "appealing" as a verb, not an adjective.

And since some mashed up a David Hasselhoff video with a burger commercial, perhaps Travis can hook up with a hot dog seller.
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