The Patriot Ledger reported last month that Chelsea Orr, the daughter-in-law of former Bruins player Bobby Orr, was charged with felony “wiretapping” for recording her conversations with Cohasset police officers.
Chelsea Orr was arrested by the Cohasset police for drunk driving shortly after she drove her SUV off the road, hit a tree and stone wall, and flipped her vehicle over. After the police took Orr into custody, they brought her to South Shore Hospital to be examined by doctors.
Police claim that Orr told them she was Bobby Orr’s daughter-in-law and that she planned to have the officer who arrested her fired, stating that she could so do because she is “very powerful.” She also allegedly told the police that she had been secretly recording her conversations with them using her iPhone.
After police learned about the recordings, they seized Orr’s phone and tacked on a felony “wiretapping” charge.
Orr later pleaded not guilty to all the charges against her during a hearing at Quincy District Court. She was released on $1,000 bail.
Based on the police’s version of the story, it sounds as though Orr really is guilty of violating the Massachusetts wiretapping statute. Although it is legal to record one’s conversations with others in Massachusetts, the state’s wiretapping statute prohibits “secretly” audio-recording others. If Orr had held her iPhone “in plain sight” (to use the language of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court), her recording would have been perfectly legal. As it stands, surreptitiously audio-recording the police — or anyone else — is a felony in Massachusetts.
Personally, I think this is ridiculous. Laws that criminalize the creation of audio-recordings of one’s interactions with police are attacks on freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
Police are public servants, paid for with tax dollars, so members of the public should be free to create records of what they’re doing when they’re on duty. Police are also powerful people and recording them is one of the best and only ways that the average person can hope to hold them accountable.
Criminalizing the recording of police officers — whether it’s done secretly or in the open — will only lead to more incidents of police abusing people. As former SJC Justice Margaret Marshall put it, the state wiretapping statute “allow[s] police officers to conceal possible misconduct behind a cloak of privacy.”
It may be that Chelsea Orr was drunk and driving in a way that endangered others around her. She may have even made an ass out of herself to the cops who arrested her. But none of that changes the fact that she should be allowed to record her interactions with police. If she goes to trial, I hope there are some sensible individuals on the jury who refuse to convict her of the “wiretapping” charge regardless of what the evidence is.
Update (7/1/2013): I found out by calling the Norfolk District Attorney’s Office that Chelsea Orr’s charges went to trial on May 21, 2012. Orr was acquitted of all the charges, including the wiretapping charge. Unfortunately, I don’t have any information about the arguments used during the trial, because the none of the media outlets that initially covered this story appear to have followed up on it.