This Josh Wolf Thing

Chuck-o pointed out this whole Josh Wolf thing — a 24-year old blogger who is in jail for contempt for not surrendering video of a protest he recorded. Apparently he had sold some of this video to local media but the government wants the rest of it to identify perpetrators in some vandalism which resulted in property damage and injuries.

You can read the rest linked off the link above. To judge an issue like this, I always reverse it: what if some Billy Buttfuck radical right-wing Christian had video of an abortion clinic bombing. Would we want the video? What would our argument be for demanding the video in the courts?

I think the “journalism” sword may cut two ways here. I don’t think the government should have any reason to demand photos or videos that I shoot. That is personal property protected by a right to privacy. But if I publish that and then claim journalistic protections, I may be subjecting myself to some responsibilities as well. I generally don’t agree when the government imprisons journalists for protecting their sources. But if you seek to be lumped in with journalists, you have to be aware that journalists do go to jail sometimes.

But this borders on a different issue. Is every piece of video that the media or citizens film automatically available to the state if they think it is proof of something? No fucking way. That is explicitly turning the citizenry into government surveillance cameras. Mr. Wolf is not accused of a crime regarding the protests events. He was acting as a documentarian. Does that oblige him under penalty of imprisonment to give over any footage requested by the government? Are we willing to say that we would say the same thing for the militant Christian warrior with the footage of an abortion clinic bombing?

The difference with this case is that Mr. Wolf offered to show the judge the video, confident that the judge would deem it immaterial. As far as I understand it, Mr. Wolf is not necessarily a supporter of or associated with the perpetrators of the protest crimes. Should citizen observers be obligated to turn over any footage they get if the government wants to use it in a prosecution?

No. This would squash free speech and the freedom to associate and the right to privacy. It would also kill a new form of art, which is this weird world of vlogging and real reality TV. Citizen journalism should be protected as free speech and should be protected under the right to privacy and this kid should not be in federal prison right now.

This Josh Wolf Thing

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