Man arrested for wiretapping after filming police officer

A Massachusetts man is arrested and has his phone taken from him. He was recording a police officer talking loudly and swearing. The recording has now mysteriously disappeared.

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The alleged wiretapper CBS Boston screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

We're all hypocrites at heart. It's how we manage it that gets us through the day.

Take those who are charged with surveilling others. They don't always warm to being surveilled themselves.

Indeed, one police officer in Fall River, Mass., was allegedly miffed when a bystander, George Thompson, filmed him as he was talking on his flip phone.

Thompson says the officer was talking loudly and cursing. He also says the officer was on duty.

What happened next is that when the officer noticed Thompson had taken out his iPhone to film him, he allegedly stormed over and arrested Thompson on charges of illegal wiretapping.

As CBS Boston reports, the charges seem peculiar. The officer in question, Thomas Barboza, declared in his own police report that Thompson readily admitted he was filming. And according to Massachusetts state law, it's legal for someone to openly film a public official while the official is handling his or her duties in a public place.

 

Which makes a statement given to WPRI-TV by Fall River police chief Daniel Racine all the more strange. He said: "I think we all have our basic rights and I think people should not record others secretly or surreptitiously."

Some might observe that there was nothing secret or surreptitious happening here. Thompson didn't like the officer's behavior, so he openly filmed it. Indeed, WPRI-TV reports that Barboza was disciplined for his behavior. (Moreover, Thompson claims that Barboza called him a "welfare bum.")

What might seem surreptitious to some is that the recording on Thompson's iPhone has disappeared.

The phone was confiscated by police and kept in their custody for two days. However, the police say it was Thompson who erased it.

Philosophers might ask: Now why would he do that? He just filmed something he didn't like. He got arrested for it. And his next step was to delete it from his phone?

The police told WPRI-TV that they had issued a warrant to Apple in an attempt to discover how the phone was magically reset. Thompson says that he gave the police his passcode, so that the video could be seen by potential investigators.

Chief Racine expressed his openness to an investigation: "If a Fall River police officer erased that video, he's fired. And I would suspect the district attorney would take out charges."

Thompson doesn't seem entirely moved by the thought.

He told CBS Boston: "They're investigating themselves and there's a code of blue and everybody knows that."

Yes, I suppose we've all watched quite a few movies with that suggestion, though I'm sure that if Matt Damon was the Fall River police force, he would stand up for what's right.

This is the latest instance -- and surely not the last -- in which certain police officers haven't taken kindly to being filmed by the people who pay their pensions.

Last year, a San Diego officer appeared to describe a Samsung Galaxy as a "weapon."

Most recently, a woman in Florida was jailed and told she would be charged with a felony for filming a routine traffic stop.

In Thompson's case, some might muse that in Massachusetts it's legal to film surreptitiously up a woman's skirt (though not for much longer), but not a police officer in the course of his duty.

 

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