The Pixel Isn't Always Mightier
Don't Read Or Share This Post

Do Police Officers Have The Right To Remain Private?

320665_309085722453433_100000560234460_1161317_489395404_nDo I have the right to publish your phone number?  Email address?  Twitter account name?  How about if this information were not available to the general public?

How about if I were publishing the identity of the cop that recently pepper sprayed a bunch of non-violent protesters on a college campus?  The Anonymous hacker group recently did just this.  Were they behaving morally?  Legally?

The Legal Perspective

The general rule of thumb is that one cannot publish information for which there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.  Publishing or publicizing such information could represent material damage in a court of law.  

Morally however, there is a time and place for taking a stand, blowing the whistle, pointing the finger and living with the blow-back.

The Moral Perspective

Police officers are real people who put their life on the line on a daily basis.  These people are by and large well meaning, hardworking people in an honorable profession.  Many are heroes.  As a team, police rely on the uniform and badge to convey professionalism, dignity and respect.  As a team, they stand behind one another when the bullets are flying and take the heat when a member of their team disrespects the badge.  They succeed and fail as a team.

That said, and as much as I respect cops, I do not believe that their employment, however heroic, entitles police officers to a free pass.  I have first hand experience dealing with a handful of dishonorable, racist and physically abusive members of New York's Finest.  While I have the utmost respect for most police officers (one of my oldest friends is a cop), those who behave inappropriately while in uniform are not only disrespecting themselves but the entire force.

When a member of a police force acts out of turn, they minimize the respect the public has for law and order, as well as those putting their lives on the line to enforce it.  It is our responsibility to support those putting their lives on the line.  This responsibility includes doing our best to ensure that those acting out of line are brought to justice, even if they did so while wearing a uniform.

The behavior of the officer at the UC Davis protest was reprehensible.  Both he, and those who issued the order to take the offensive action should be removed from their positions.  This action besmirched the reputation and respect the general public has for the badge.  Not taking punitive action would be unacceptable.  

I'm not convinced however, that publishing personal information is the morally correct tactic at this juncture.  We have a system for applying justice.  When the system fails us, it's time to act outside the system.  We haven't yet reached this point.

Bottom Line

We are living in an age of organic vigilantism.  Everyone is a reporter.  The greater the demand for information, the more likely that it will be found. Those in positions of public responsibility must recognize that there is often great demand for information relating to them.  This is the cost of the doing business.

And yes, it sucks for the innocent police officer who gets caught on the wrong end of the stick.  Police departments will move to protect their own and politicians will move towards public opinion.  And the little people however innocent will get burned.  Here's to tomorrow.