We have been following the effort by police in the United States and abroad to make filming them in public a crime. For a prior column, click here. We can now add Spain to the list. The Spanish government has proposed a law banning the photographing and filming of members of the police. Since such films have been a major deterrent to police abuse, the law is viewed as understandably threatening to citizens as protests increase over Spain’s economic crisis. Last year, one such film caught police attacking protesters during a visit by the Pope. The Spanish government appears to have found a solution: rather than stop the abuse, you stop people filming the abuse.
The Interior Ministry insists that it is only protecting the lives of police officers by prohibiting “the capture, reproduction and editing of images, sounds or information of members of the security or armed forces in the line of duty.” Director general of the police, Ignacio Cosido, says that such a law reaches “a balance between the protection of citizens’ rights and those of security forces.” Where is the balance? It is an outright ban on filming police. Not only that, the government wants to criminalize the dissemination of images and videos over social networks like Facebook.
Not only does the law sweep into journalistic areas, but it leaves the government with the ability to pick and choose who can photograph them — the type of selective prosecution that is the very hallmark of state control over free speech. In a country not only in the midst of national protests but with a history of authoritarianism under Franco, it is a huge step backward for democratic institutions in Spain.