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As far-fetched as that sounds (though not in this day and age) Anthony Graber, a Maryland Air National Guard staff sergeant, could indeed face that time in jail if convicted of illegal wiretapping charge.
Here's the setup:
Anthony Graber, a Maryland Air National Guard staff sergeant, faces up to 16 years in prison. His crime? He videotaped his March encounter with a state trooper who pulled him over for speeding on a motorcycle. Then Graber put the video — which could put the officer in a bad light — up on YouTube.
It doesn't sound like much. But Graber is not the only person being slapped down by the long arm of the law for the simple act of videotaping the police in a public place. Prosecutors across the U.S. claim the videotaping violates wiretap laws — a stretch, to put it mildly.
In the Graber case, the trooper also apparently had reason to want to keep his actions off the Internet. He cut Graber off in an unmarked vehicle, approached Graber in plain clothes and yelled while brandishing a gun before identifying himself as a trooper.
Yet, never expect that the government will allow freedoms to go unpunished. THe cop looked like he was driving his personal vehicle. He is dressed in casual clothes and then jumps out of a car with a gun yelling at the cyclist. Can a trooper really draw a gun on a citizen when he is off the clock?
Law enforcement is fighting back. In the case of Graber — a young husband and father who had never been arrested — the police searched his residence and seized computers. Graber spent 26 hours in jail even before facing the wiretapping charges that could conceivably put him away for 16 years. (It is hard to believe he will actually get anything like that, however. One point on his side: the Maryland attorney general's office recently gave its opinion that a court would likely find that the wiretap law does not apply to traffic stops.)
Last year, Sharron Tasha Ford was arrested in Florida for videotaping an encounter between the police and her son on a public sidewalk. She was never prosecuted, but in June, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida sued the city of Boynton Beach on her behalf, claiming false arrest and violation of her First Amendment rights.
Is this an equal protection clause? Police can videotape us at any time, but we can't videotape them when they operate out in the public arena? Can the Media now not cover police, fire, or emergency-personnel actions?
If off-duty cops driving in their everyday car, wearing their everyday clothes, can pull people over on the highway with their guns drawn, then why can't everyone else?