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Washington, D.C. Police Affirm Citizens' Right To Record Police Officers 210

Posted by Soulskill
from the doing-it-right dept.
dcsmith writes "Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier says, 'A bystander has the same right to take photographs or make recordings as a member of the media,' and backs it up with a General Order to her Department. Quoting: The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) recognizes that members of the general public have a First Amendment right to video record, photograph, and/or audio record MPD members while MPD members are conducting official business or while acting in an official capacity in any public space, unless such recordings interfere with police activity.'"
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Washington, D.C. Police Affirm Citizens' Right To Record Police Officers

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  • Loophole (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nyder (754090) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @07:50PM (#40758559) Journal

    ...unless such recordings interfere with police activity

    I bet we'll find a bunch of cops using this as an excuse to take away your camera...

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      he shoots..... he shoots..... (waiting for the event) .... oh, no, he misses! ;(

      loopholes: the 'we almost gave you what you wanted' part.

    • Re:Loophole (Score:5, Informative)

      by Drishmung (458368) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @08:11PM (#40758813)

      ...unless such recordings interfere with police activity

      I bet we'll find a bunch of cops using this as an excuse to take away your camera...

      Nope. From the linked orders [mpdconline.com]

      1. If a person is photographing or recording police activity from a position that impedes or interferes with the safety of members or their ability to perform their duties, a member may direct the person to move to a position that will not interfere. However, a member shall not order the person to stop photographing or recording.
      2. If a person is photographing or recording police activity from a position that impedes or threatens the safety of members of the public, a member shall direct the person to move to a position that will not interfere. However, members shall not order the person to stop photographing or recording.
      3. A person’s recording of members’ activity from a safe distance, and absent any attendant action that obstructs the activity or threatens the safety of the member(s), does not constitute interference.
      4. A person has the right to express criticism of the police activity being observed. So long as that expression does not jeopardize the safety of any member, suspect or bystander; and so long as that expression does not violate the law or incite others to violate the law, the expression does not constitute interference.

      So, they may not tell you to stop recording, and they may not take your camera. Later on in the order it explains in more detail how they MAY NOT TAKE your camera as evidence without probable cause, even then they need their supervisor present, and under no circumstances may they delete recordings.

      • by Uberbah (647458)

        Nope. From the linked orders

        Maybe on some other planet where the cops don't look for a lame pretext in order to arrest/detain/search you. Disorderly conduct, "looks suspicious", drug dogs that could never pass a double-blind test....

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          Police dogs may have to pass such tests during training, but police officers give their dogs a signal to get "excited" when they want to use it as a pretense for a search. It doesn't take much to get a dog excited. "get em boy" under your breath or even just the tone of voice when deploying them will trigger the response and willful ignorance can mistake that for the correct response. Most dogs will react to food smells too and the cop can "mistake" that for a positive detection of drugs. All they have to d

          • Re:Loophole (Score:5, Interesting)

            by RenderSeven (938535) on Wednesday July 25, 2012 @09:42AM (#40763501)
            Citation please? I have a K9 dog, I know some trainers and Im friendly with a few policemen with K9s, and I've never heard of such a thing. I could be wrong or uninformed so I'd yield to a citation, but without one and having seen the dogs and trainers and handlers in action I dont believe it without confirmation. The bit about "most dogs react to food smells" is utterly false though, being distracted by a nice juicy steak is the fastest way to get a dog kicked out of any training program, and a working dog has very little interest in food when performing a task. The average cop may not give a rats ass about people, but a K9 handler training their dog to "lie" is disrespecting the dog and I dont know a single handler that would do that ever.
      • Re:Loophole (Score:5, Informative)

        by Tastecicles (1153671) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @10:23PM (#40759909)

        ...under no circumstances may they delete recordings.

        Well, no, because that would be spoliation. Not that this doesn't happen a LOT.

        Refer to the Rodney King case for a bloody good reason for a cop to want a video recording to disappear. More recently, the Ian Tomlinson murder trial which resulted in the cop who was videotaped in the act of killing a man was acquitted by a bought jury.

        So continues the record of the British police, not a single member of whom has ever been convicted of causing or by omission of action causing, a wrongful death.

        We know different.

        • Re:Loophole (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Richard_at_work (517087) * <richardprice&gmail,com> on Wednesday July 25, 2012 @08:12AM (#40762753)

          A bought jury? That's just hilarious.

          I love how very single court decision that groupthink on slashdot doesn't agree with simply *must* be the result of corruption, bought judges or juries...

          I don't believe you followed the case any closer than the media reported it.

        • More recently, the Ian Tomlinson murder trial

          It was a manslaughter trial.

          We know different.

          Who's this "we"?

      • Re:Loophole (Score:5, Informative)

        by fafaforza (248976) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @10:43PM (#40760037)

        Theory and practice are quite different, and in NYC, people photographing the subways are still harassed by cops even with a printout of the specific law allowing them to take photos.

        Also, refer to the video of that woman that was taping an arrest from her private property - the front lawn of her home. The cop who was making the arrest some 30 feet away claimed he felt threatened and arrested her. Ironically, the people that were initially being arrested were let go on the scene.

        • The very idea that the police have any right to say what the citizens can or cannot do is wrong. The police are there to uphold the law, not make their own. It's good that they are recognizing their limits here, but they do not have any bragging rights for doing so. It's sad he has to give a General Order to keep his fascists from wielding their clubs against innocent photographers documenting their actions, but I'm glad he has given it.
        • by Jiro (131519)

          Logically, having a printout of the law should be useless. If the officer doesn't know about the law already, he would be foolish to believe that a law is whatever some random person with a computer printout tells him it is--you can print anything on a computer printout.

          • Re:Loophole (Score:5, Interesting)

            by jeko (179919) on Wednesday July 25, 2012 @02:03AM (#40760993)

            A Law Enforcement Officer cannot enforce the Law if they do not know what the Law is.

            Any officer who doesn't know the law already shouldn't be in uniform.

            And, yes, I'm totally cool with requiring a law degree before you can wear a uniform. Think about how awesome it would be to have police officers worthy of the badge for a change.

            • And, yes, I'm totally cool with requiring a law degree before you can wear a uniform. Think about how awesome it would be to have police officers worthy of the badge for a change.

              I'm as annoyed as the next guy when a cop shows his ignorance and arrogance when manipulating the law to make his job easier, but the idea that cops should have law degrees is a little "pie-in-the-sky" if you ask me. Even lawyers don't know the laws on the spot. Have you seen some of the crazy statutes passed? There are exceptions,

            • Actually no one person can know the law. There is just too much of it. And this is the problem. Every citizen is expected to know ALL the laws. But it is not possible.

              The law is the problem. It needs to be drastically simplified. If you need a law degree to understand it, it is too complicated.

          • by adolf (21054)

            Logically, having a printout of the law should be useless. If the officer doesn't know about the law already, he would be foolish to believe that a law is whatever some random person with a computer printout tells him it is--you can print anything on a computer printout.

            Logically, a thinking man will spent a moment investigating whether a computer printout when it is presented by a calm and rational free person, and attempt to discern is indeed a valid representation of an actual law or if it is a forged do

        • The problem I have with all this is the punishment -- any police officer that violates a citizen's rights should permanently lose their badge and do time.

          As a citizen I've entrusted the officer to protect and serve *me* and when they violate that trust, they should be properly maligned, and not just given time off with pay.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      yeah, DC cops have never been keen on being filmed if it would remotely portray them in a negative light. I watched them perform an illegal search and while trying to pull out my camera I was threatened with jail time for "loitering" and they weren't remotely kind about it either; intimidation via threats of violence is how I would refer to it.

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @07:54PM (#40758603)

    A bystander has the same right to take photographs or make recordings as a member of the media

    Emphasize "bystander". If the officer is trying to interview you, search you, etc then you are not a bystander.

    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      You have the same right to record an ongoing conversation w/ a government official on a public street as you've always had.

      The fact we've replaced the old notepad & witness account of black-and-white movies w/ a modern audio recorder does not erase the natural right. "There is no expectation of privacy on a public street." - Supreme Court. This is true not just for us but also government employees.

      • by perpenso (1613749)
        Note that caveat at the end of the statement: "unless such recordings interfere with police activity". If you are the person being interviewed, searched, etc then actions taken to film the interaction may be considered to be such "interference". Again, that word "bystander" was probably very carefully chosen to distinguish between those involved in the interaction and those not.
        • by fafaforza (248976)

          Well, if a cop is trying to handcuff you and you refuse to separate your hands because you are operating a camera, then you couldn't use this edict to claim a violation of your rights, because it was interfering with their business. It doesn't mean you cannot record, simply that it cannot interfere. I guess you can put the camera down, pointed at you, while you get arrested or interviewed.

  • The order makes a lot of sense. But I wonder why anyone thought reporters had special rights. Freedom of the press means they can print what they want, but when they're on the scene the press pass doesn't mean anything.
    • The order makes a lot of sense. But I wonder why anyone thought reporters had special rights. Freedom of the press means they can print what they want, but when they're on the scene the press pass doesn't mean anything.

      The press pass, press ID, etc is merely a courtesy extended to the press in some jurisdictions. It does allow some members of the press into areas a civilian would normally not be allowed. Again, a courtesy, often subject to the needs of the person on the scene who is in charge.

      • by tomhath (637240)
        I was thinking more about the stories of photographers being arrested at OWS protests and claiming it was somehow wrong because they had a piece of paper on a lanyard around their neck. The fact that they were also blocking traffic didn't count, because they were members of the press!!!
  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @08:00PM (#40758675) Homepage Journal

    Nowadays we're all media.

    We're all bloggers.

    And we can upload pics and vids and stream them around the world.

    How about we just remove the rights of Corporate Media from reporting, instead of Citizens?

    Corporations aren't People.

    • "Corporations aren't People." No, they are groups of people. No people, no corporation.
      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        Just because a corporation has people inside of it does not mean that it has rights, anymore than a building filled with people has rights.

        • A corporation is a a group of people, these people have rights and interests. A building is not comparable to a corporation as a building is not a legal entity, it's a building. People use a pen, a pen has no rights. Why should it?
          • by jpapon (1877296)

            A building is not comparable to a corporation as a building is not a legal entity,

            You said it yourself right there! A corporation is a legal entity, not a person! Saying a corporation is a person is the same as saying a marriage license is a person... it's ridiculous.

        • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @09:57PM (#40759749)

          You are missing the point.

          We (the US) thankfully have a pretty air-tight protection of speech in our First Amendment. There are two important aspects that come into play.

          1. People have the right to associate, and assemble.
          2. People have the right to say what they wish.

          Because of that first part, you can't declare that a specific grouping of people does not deserve the protection of that second part.

          If you declared corporations to NOT be protected under the First Amendment, how would you differentiate them from Newspapers or the Broadcast corporations? Would they have to be journalists? Who gets to determine who can be a member of the press?

          Would it be illegal for a corporation like Pixar to create a movie with a specific political message simply because they are a corporation and not an individual? Who gets to determine 'how political' the message is before the government censors it.

          Like it or not, we CAN'T impose restrictions on what corporations can say without creating some sort of government speech approval board for films, newspapers, television. Such a thing could not exist within the bounds of the US Constitution, nor do I think I would welcome such a board as it would be horrifically politicized.

          • So, if a corporation does something illegal, how about we put it in jail? I'm very much for dissolving companies that break the law.

            But we're off topic. See, the point you're missing is that corporations exist only at the pleasure of the people via their government. There is no situation where the corporate business structure can be construed as a human right.

            I'm not saying people don't have a right to run a business, everyone should be able to run a business if they wish. However, I am saying people do not

          • by Joe U (443617)

            Would they have to be journalists? Who gets to determine who can be a member of the press?

            I should have addressed this in my other post.

            A person in the act of journalism should be protected, not just a member of the press. The news company or lack of one is not relevant to this argument.

    • by perpenso (1613749) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @08:16PM (#40758855)

      How about we just remove the rights of Corporate Media from reporting, instead of Citizens? Corporations aren't People.

      The controversial "Citizens United" US Supreme Court decision says exactly that. My understanding is that the court did *not* say that "corporations are people" and that this phrase was spin from the opponents of the decision. I believe the court said two things. One: that groups of people have the same speech rights as an individual person, the nature of that group (company, union, special interest, etc) is irrelevant. Two: that media corporations have no special speech rights, all organizations have the same speech rights. Well, that was my understanding from skimming the decision. Perhaps I missed something. If you think I missed something I'd prefer a reference to the decision, not what some talking head on TV said, what some political blogger said, etc. I don't trust these to accurately report a supreme court decision any more than I expect them to accurately report on technical/computer issues.

      • by moeinvt (851793)

        Your interpretation of Citizen's United v. FEC is correct.

        There is indeed a history of SCOTUS decisions, dating back to the late 1800s, which have created this "corporate personhood" nonsense. However, Citizen's United was NOT one of them. As you say, that concept was just dragged into the debate by opponents.

        The decision simply affirms that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech". Making it illegal for a group of people to run ads on TV is a clear violation.

  • by trout007 (975317) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @08:00PM (#40758677)

    Police are supposed to have the same rights as citizens. They are just more highly trained in the area of law enforcement. Citizens and police should be held to the same standards of conduct. In Florida for instance a police officer out of his jurisdiction has the same rights as a citizen to make arrests. They can hold the suspect until the sheriff arrives to take the person into custody. When the case gets to trial you have to show up. If you break the law during the arrest you can be sued as well. Every move police make should be filmed since they are supposed to be experts.

    • by artor3 (1344997) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @08:17PM (#40758861)

      Police do have special powers, and I'm not sure why you would claim otherwise. I can't arrest someone with the same leeway given to cops (note that your example had to specify an officer out of his jurisdiction). I can't get a warrant to bust down someone's door. I can't pull a car over for speeding. I can't own certain weapons.

      And that's how it should be. We want law enforcement officers to have an edge over the regular civilians, because that means they'll also have an edge over criminals. But since we're giving them extra powers, we need to hold them to an extra high standard. Unfortunately, we tend to fall short on that last part.

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        And don't forget to define jurisdiction. In TX, all cops are empowered by the state. So a college cop for University of Houston has the same powers in Austin as an Austin City Police Officer. Sure, he'll get in trouble if he exercises them without a very very good reason (like visiting a relative and being in a bank when it is robbed, as opposed to pulling over people for random traffic violations), but he has the power without restriction outside his "jurisdiction." Now if he were in Russia at the time
      • I can't arrest someone with the same leeway given to cops

        In the state whose laws I know best (Utah) the only additional arrest power given to police is the authority to use deadly force to stop a fleeing felony suspect. Other than that, it's identical.

        I can't get a warrant to bust down someone's door.

        Technically, you can, if you can get a judge to give you one. In fact, prior to the advent of large organized police forces, nearly all warrants were served by private citizens, and AFAIK the law hasn't changed -- though practice clearly has, and in practice it's unlikely any judge would issue you a warrant.

        I can't pull a car over for speeding.

        Sure you can, legally. As a practical matter you'd have a hard time doing it without red and blue flashing lights, and there are laws against putting those on your vehicle. I'd bet that if you put yellow flashing lights on, though, you could successfully convince many people to pull over. After that you couldn't issue a citation, but you could get the driver's information and take it to the relevant prosecutor and see if you can convince him to issue a court summons on the strength of the evidence you can provide (mostly, your testimony, same as a police officer).

        Again, this isn't a difference in real authority, it's a difference in common practice and who's likely to actually be listened to.

        I can't own certain weapons.

        You can own anything a police officer can own himself. There are some weapons a police department can own that you cannot, but none that police departments commonly issue. You could, for example, own a fully-automatic M-16 (per federal law, anyway; a few states are more restrictive). It'd cost you $20K+, due to the 1986 law restricting civilian ownership of full-auto firearms to those that were already in civilian hands then (fixed supply and growing demand means the price goes up), and it would take a few months of doing paperwork and waiting, but you could do it if you're not a felon or otherwise legally disqualified due to your own record.

        We want law enforcement officers to have an edge over the regular civilians, because that means they'll also have an edge over criminals.

        I don't agree that there's any significant "edge" we can give to officers that doesn't serve the same goals in the hands of law-abiding citizens. Granted that citizens rarely have need of them, and that it's better to let the police do their jobs wherever possible, but there are rare circumstances in which it is useful for citizens to exercise their police powers, and in general it's better for society if police don't have a special status in the eyes of the law. It's hard enough to keep them from exceeding their authority even without that.

        • by codegen (103601)

          I can't arrest someone with the same leeway given to cops

          In the state whose laws I know best (Utah) the only additional arrest power given to police is the authority to use deadly force to stop a fleeing felony suspect. Other than that, it's identical.

          The main difference is that you had better be right if you arrest someone. The police enjoy limited immunity when making an arrest. You have no such protection.

        • As another child points out, you are incorrect about the guns. LEO's have extra special above-the-law privileges when it comes to guns, even when they are off duty, even in their personal life, and even after they are retired. My police-officer neighbor has a full-auto short-barrel Thompson, personally-owned. I would love to have one, but some animals are more equal than others.
    • by perpenso (1613749)

      Police are supposed to have the same rights as citizens. They are just more highly trained in the area of law enforcement. Citizens and police should be held to the same standards of conduct. In Florida for instance a police officer out of his jurisdiction has the same rights as a citizen to make arrests. They can hold the suspect until the sheriff arrives to take the person into custody. When the case gets to trial you have to show up. If you break the law during the arrest you can be sued as well.

      That is not quite right. Law enforcement has special authority to conduct pre-emptive and other active/offensive operations within their jurisdiction, and to use equipment/weapons unavailable to civilians during these operations. Law enforcement is not held to the same standard as civilians, they are held to a higher standard because of their expertise, training, equipment, etc. For example the interpretation of "appropriate response" in the context of self defense is more narrow for law enforcement than fo

    • by tnk1 (899206)

      It usually is a matter of state lines, not purely the jurisdiction that the officer is employed in. In certain states, you are a peace officer that has been certified by the state, which means that you can carry a weapon and, if necessary, cross county and town lines to make arrests if you are in pursuit.

      Depending on the state, you can make lawful arrests without being in pursuit as well. The thing is, there are going to be administrative rules about that, and you also don't want to step on the toes of co

      • by arth1 (260657)

        It usually is a matter of state lines, not purely the jurisdiction that the officer is employed in.

        There are several police forces that aren't state bound or related, and yes, it's the jurisdiction that counts.
        A US National Zoological Park Police cop has a different jurisdiction than an FDA Office of Criminal Investigations cop.

    • They are just more highly trained in the area of law enforcement. Citizens and police should be held to the same standards of conduct.

      As they are more highly trained - on the tax payer's dollar - they should be held to higher standards. And that's before we even begin talking about all the special privileges afforded to the police in the name of being more effective at their job.

  • by stevegee58 (1179505) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @08:01PM (#40758691) Journal
    Ahah, there's the magic word.
  • by Greyfox (87712) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @08:11PM (#40758797) Homepage Journal
    I am about to commence an intense program of police brutality against this suspect, future events with which your recording would interfere. So kindly turn the camera off.
  • Google (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This is why it's important to support Google's right to record audio or EM spectrum signals in public places. If we don't stick up for the uses we don't like, the uses we DO like will disappear along with.

  • by Shoten (260439) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @08:15PM (#40758845)

    It's worth noting that this order is part and parcel of a lawsuit settlement that the MPD reached with someone who was victimized for recording the police at a traffic stop. This order isn't entirely being done spontaneously because the MPD are good little fonzies. I like Chief Lanier, a lot...but for the most part the MPD remain a group of heavily-armed monkeys, most of whom seem to have a racial issue with whatever races they don't belong to. A white officer recently was suspended for stating...openly, to fellow officers...that he would shoot Michelle Obama. And I can state plainly that I've gotten a lot of trouble from non-white officers, personally. It's one of the reasons I moved from DC to a nearby suburb.

    • by sumdumass (711423)

      I would shoot Michelle Obama too if I was defending myself or others from imminent life threatening harm- A situation I do not realistically think would ever come about in real life. Was this officer participating in some fantasy "what if" game when the comment was made or was it something he offered on his own out of stupidity?

      I mean we have played the game of what would you do and then set out impossible and unrealistic scenarios. What would you do if you turned a corner and looked down a dark alley to se

  • by Tommy Bologna (2431404) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @08:18PM (#40758871)
    It's a shame this announcement was necessary. A generation ago, it wouldn't have been required. Now that it's been made perfectly clear, I'd like to see the next DC police officer who interferes with a citizen-photographer lose his job.
    • It's a shame this announcement was necessary. A generation ago, it wouldn't have been required.

      Now that it's been made perfectly clear, I'd like to see the next DC police officer who interferes with a citizen-photographer lose his job.

      I'm not sure that a generation ago this clarification of rights wouldn't have been necessary. For a very long time the police have wanted to be in full control of the entire situation. And whether that includes shooting your dog because he barked, or stopping photography by anyone who isn't the press where there was already a too cozy relationship, this has gone on for far too long.

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Or shooting your dog, then shooting your wife in the head with a sniper rifle. Ruby Ridge was almost a generation ago now.

    • by Jiro (131519)

      A generation ago, you didn't have half the population constantly carrying around motion picture cameras and recording devices in their cellphones.

  • Public Commendation (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    You can send feedback here: http://app.dc.gov/apps/about.asp?page=atd&type=dsf&referrer=mpdc.dc.gov&agency_id=1027 [dc.gov]

    Public commendations/complaints go on an officer's permanent record.

  • First amendment? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Yath (6378) on Tuesday July 24, 2012 @08:34PM (#40759033) Journal

    Rather annoying that it's called a "first amendment" right. It has nothing to do with the first amendment. If anything, the ninth amendment is a better justification. The very best justification is that there is no law against it.

  • What he have here is a Sudden Outbreak of Common Sense.

    You might not have recognized it at first because sadly it is such a rare event.

    • Common sense has nothing to do with it. As a poster above pointed out, this is purely the result of a lawsuit against the MPD. Just like the Miranda warning, progress most often comes from the court system.
  • The SJC has ruled we don't have the right to record the cops.(But apparently one of the federal court of appeals decide why yes, we do actually.) Look up Simon Glik if you care to read more.
    • by v1 (525388)

      Look up Simon Glik if you care to read more.

      Thanks for the pointer. Good reading here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glik_v._Cunniffe [wikipedia.org]

      • by Macthorpe (960048)

        Colour me confused. That article clearly states that he did have a right to record them, that this was upheld by the court, and that Boston settled out of court and paid him $170,000.

        For anyone who doesn't want to read it, he filmed the police and, after asking if it included audio, they arrested him for breach of the peace, wiretapping and another charge they basically invented. After it inevitably didn't go anywhere and they refused to investigate internally, he sued the city for violation of his 1st and

  • All joking aside, this really is a good thing.

    The reports of ordinary people getting beat up, arrested, hassled, yelled at and harassed for videotaping or photographing cops - especially cops who were not really doing anything strange let alone those who WERE using excessive force - were very chilling indeed.

    Of course, that is assuming this actually does anything.

  • This should be a short thread... no one on the internet ever seems to have much of an opinion about police matters, particularly where recording comes in...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 25, 2012 @08:49AM (#40763033)

    As someone living in DC, I see the summary fails to mention a few things: 1) This was the result of a class action lawsuit settlement, not police wanting to respect peoples' rights, 2) police fought this lawsuit for 2+ years as is common when they're caught oppressing people's constitutional rights (Google "DC Trinidad Checkpoints" or "DC pershing park MPD"), and 3) this has always been legal, but the police have commonly violated our rights- we shouldn't give them a cookie for simply following the law.

The first version always gets thrown away.

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