The right to privacy, if it ever existed, has been on a steady retreat for a generation.
Forced to choose between convenience and solitude, Americans overwhelmingly have chosen convenience. If you use a computer and browse “lawn mowers,” your computer ultimately will send you back an ad for lawn mowers. We go through metal detectors to get into baseball games. Children are videotaped while riding on school buses.
And cellphones, which also are recording devices, are everywhere. Television newscasts often use footage recorded by ordinary citizens.
So what are we to make of a local case where a youth faces prosecution because he attempted to record a meeting with his principal?
The entire details are unknown to the public. The lad had been assigned detentions. We don’t know why. He opted not to serve the detentions. Again, we don’t know why. Was there a good explanation?
Summoned to a meeting with the administration, he deployed his cellphone. The school, it seems, has a “cellphone off” policy. The principal cited a law that prohibits the recording of “private conversations” without consent.
The state’s attorney said he had to prosecute the law, saying he did not have a choice of which laws to prosecute. We generally agree.
Less good, perhaps, is the law, which might need an overhaul. Here is the direction privacy laws should head. Individuals generally should be free from surveillance or recording unless they pose some threat to society.
But officials, when doing their job, should be recorded. Courtrooms long have had recorders. Legislatures and city councils should be taped. There is an increasing movement for police to have body cameras. If you are in a dispute with authority, you ought to have the right to record exactly what the authority is saying.