The Camera Phone and the Citizen Journalist

The Law has always lagged behind technology. For example, there was no need for automobile safety standards until the automobile came into common use. This was the case for Simon Glik. He was arrested for filming Boston police officers when they were making an arrest of their own. Glik used his cellphone to capture the whole event. The police claimed that Glik broke a law that prohibited audio taping without consent. They further claimed that in doing so would place police officers in danger, that it would give them pause in life threatening situations. There is also the case of Allen Haywood being attacked on the subway by a group of teenagers in a crowd of people who did nothing but film the entire incident. Camera phone technology is ubiquitous nowadays. The ease at which information can be captured and disseminated seems to be changing our attitudes in both positive and negative ways.

Simon Glik recently won a court case against the Boston Police Department which awarded him 170,000 dollars. The courts ruled that citizens have the right to film agents of the government while they are in public. A right they claim is guaranteed by the First Amendment. The government does not have the right to suppress free speech or the press. With a cell phone camera, anyone can become a citizen journalist. Glik filmed the police because he thought they were using excessive force against a fellow citizen. He was peacefully protesting their behavior, another right protected by the First Amendment. Technology, like the cellphone camera and the internet, has been used to empower people. From the Middle East, to America and beyond, people are filming injustices and sharing their ideals in a way that was not possible a decade ago. There is a time for building awareness, however, there is also a time for action.

Allen Haywood was reading a book while he waited for his train when he was approached by a teenage boy and girl. For no known reason they began attacking him. Quickly, a group of about seven teens surrounded him and pummeled him. According to reports, the only actions taken by the other subway goers were taking out their cellphone cameras to film the attack and people using another passage to avoid the situation. It should be noted that one should always attempt to avoid physically intervening. Yet, no one, even those with cellphones, called 911 and no one went to alert the Metro police who were only a short run away. One can argue that filming an incident is doing something, but it does seem apathetic, even taking into account the diffusion of responsibility.

IT consultants will tell you that this trend of the citizen journalist will only grow. Thus, there will be more Glik and Haywood-like situations. The main difference between them I believe is that Glik was capturing images of the police, the people your supposed to call when you see something bad happening. For Glik there was no civil authority to immediately contact. The Metro police were hop and skip away from Haywood. It would also be easy to call the police and then film the altercation. I don’t know how I would have reacted in either situation. I can say with a degree of certainty that my first instinct wouldn’t have been to take out my cell phone and start filming. The Law has always lagged behind technology, but so has society. We will have to wait and see how society adapts to the large influx of citizen journalists.