Making it illegal to tape-record someone without that person’s consent may or may not be a good idea; assume for the moment that it is, especially in light of how easy it is to doctor a tape. But I can’t think of any reason for extending that ban to tape-recording a public official in the performance of official duties. The notion that taping an official – for example, a police officer – ought to be a more serious crime than taping an ordinary citizen has no justification I can think of.
It seems to me that the default rule should be that every interaction between a citizen and an official is recorded, unless the citizen asks for privacy. Managing the archiving-and-deletion process would be a problem, but not an insuperable one; storage is cheap.
Today’s New York Times story about a woman facing serious prison time for recording the attempts of the Internal Affairs Bureau of the Chicago Police Department to discourage her from filing a complaint against an officer who had groped her in the course of investigating a domestic-violence incident is, on its face, appalling. Perhaps there’s a back-story, but I can’t imagine what it is.
What seems to be missing here is prosecutorial discretion. The Cook County District Attorney seems to be acting very badly indeed; of course that office needs to maintain good relations with the police, but not at the expense of justice.