Border Patrol Tries to Censure Video of Alison McLeod

Border resident Alison McLeod (Bisbee, Arizona) filmed Border Patrol agents who showed up unannounced on her property and left with a prisoner — likely Mexican — handcuffed and with a bloody nose.

A few hours after she posted the video, she received notice of privacy violations from YouTube in apparent violation of YouTube’s own policies and resulting from complaints from the Border Patrol agents who didn’t like being identified in the video.

Note that we have a right under the first amendment to film government officials performing their duties in public places (and in her case on her own property).

Shortly thereafter the border patrol also stopped by her house uninvited and unannounced, presumably to deliver some further intimidation although I haven’t found any details of that exchange.

Courtesty of LiveLeak, here is the original uncensored version of “Border Patrol in the Bushes”:

Tuscon Citizen:  Captured: Border Patrol arrest video brings legal challenge (Sept 3 2011)

If you’re an activist and an amateur videographer and you see Border Patrol agents wandering around your property inspecting footprints (that happen to be yours), what do you do?

Get out your video camera and start filming, of course.

Or at least that’s what Alison McLeod, Southern Arizona Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) field organizer, did last week.

When McLeod spotted Border Patrol agents snooping on and around her property on foot, on horseback, in SUVs, and in a helicopter, she started filming and asking questions. McLeod’s curiosity lead her to the site of an arrest of a man with a bloody nose (presumably a Mexican national, since he was handcuffed).

Not 24 hours after she posted the above video to her You Tube channel, McLeod received a notice from You Tube that “someone” (ahem, like the feds) complained to them about it. Below is the e-mail she received. In addition, a Border Patrol representative visited her house the same day– unannounced and uninvited.

ACLU Press Release:  ACLU Says Bisbee Activist Has First Amendment Right to Post Border Patrol Video on YouTube  (Sept 28 2011)

In letter sent today to YouTube administrators, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona criticized the online company for censoring a video of United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents arresting a man with a bloody nose.

The 5-minute video, dubbed “Border Patrol in the Bushes,” was taken by Bisbee activist Alison McLeod, who pulled out her video camera and started filming border patrol arresting an individual after she heard helicopters and saw several agents, on horseback and on foot, on her property on August 31st.  The video shows four CBP agents walking an individual in handcuffs through her property to a white CBP truck parked on a public road. McLeod posted it on YouTube on September 2nd where it received “hundreds” of views within hours. Ten days after the video was posted, YouTube officials took it down, citing privacy complaints by CBP agents.

“This is yet another example of a private online community trampling on our First Amendment rights and trying to exercise greater control over what we share and watch online,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. “People have the right to film government officials carrying out their duties in public places. By censoring this type of protected speech, YouTube officials not only violated their own guidelines, but they’ve managed to silence debate around U.S. immigration practices along the U.S.-Mexico border.”

According to YouTube, three complaints about the video were filed; two of them were posted by CBP agents. Within hours of the YouTube posting, a CBP supervisor showed up unannounced at McLeod’s doorstep, telling her 19-year-old daughter who was home at the time that he was inquiring about the YouTube video. The agent then offered to give McLeod and her daughter a tour of the Border Patrol facilities and the local search area.

“This is the reality of border enforcement for those of us living on the border,” said McLeod, who has been living on the border since 1997. “Rather than trying to intimidate residents like me who are simply trying to make CBP more accountable to the public, they should respect the rights of all people living on the border.”

The ACLU sent a separate letter to the CBP’s Tucson Field Office, arguing their involvement in trying to remove the video constitutes “severe government interference with McLeod’s constitutional rights.”

“Customs and Border Protection is now the nation’s largest federal law enforcement agency and it operates with total impunity, accountable to no one and with little government oversight,” added Meetze. “This video and CBP’s response to it underscores the need for greater transparency.”

Although YouTube has privacy guidelines that allow them to remove content where an individual is “uniquely identifiable,” the ACLU argues in its letter to both YouTube and CBP that public officials have no reasonable expectation of privacy while exercising their official duties in public places. The ACLU letter also points out that “nothing distinguishes McLeod’s videos from the hundreds of videos already on YouTube demonstrating various law enforcement activities.”

“YouTube boasts that it is the biggest news platform in the world,” wrote ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Dan Pochoda in his three-page letter to YouTube. “One of the goals of a free press is to hold government officials accountable for their actions. Granting law enforcement a de facto veto over materials they find objectionable or unflattering would violate and jeopardize that mission.”

The letter to YouTube asks the company to allow McLeod to repost her video and any future videos of government officials performing their duties. The ACLU also is asking CBP to stop interfering with McLeod’s efforts to videotape and photograph CBP activities on her own property or public land, and to rescind its complaints seeking the removal of the video from YouTube.

ACLU Letter to CBP (Sept 28 2011)

ACLU Letter to YouTube (Sept 28 2011)

The ACLU letter is a good read.  Unfortunately it’s a photographic  scan so I can’t copy & paste parts of it.  However, if you click on the link you can read it in its entirety.

Tuscon Citizen:  First Amendment upheld in Border Patrol video case (Oct 1 2011)

A few weeks ago, I posted a story about a border activist who captured the Border Patrol scouring her property and adjacent land and the eventual arrest of one man. Less that 24 hours after posting her video on You Tube (and publication of the video on the TucsonCitizen.com), the videographer began receiving notices from YouTube that they had received privacy complaints about her video.

As you can see from the blank spot in my blog post, her video was pulled from YouTube.

Unfortunately for the Border Patrol who wanted to suppress loneprotestor’s video, the American Civil Liberties Union said she had the right under the First Amendment to film their actions and publish her video on You Tube …  Hurray for the First Amendment.

Unfortunately neither the original video nor the sanitized “new” video is now available on YouTube.  So much for the YouTube and the First Amendment.

There’s also a good blog summary here …

Brenda Norrell:  YouTube censors Border Patrol arrest at Bisbee  (Sept 30 2011)

And here …

Phoenix New Times:  Border Patrol, YouTube Censored Video, ACLU Says (Sept 30 2011)

And here …

Barriozona Magazine:  YouTube Removes Video Showing Border Patrol’s Detainee with Bloody Nose (Oct 3 2011)

Also …

LiveLeak:  Border Patrol, YouTube Censored Video, ACLU Says (Oct 13 2011)

AZ Starnet:  Citizens’ videos of police stir concerns  (Oct 30 2011)

In “Border Patrol in the Bushes,” a shaky, homemade video by Bisbee resident Alison McLeod, agents ride horses through the desert and walk a handcuffed man to their truck.

McLeod began filming the incident one day in August after noticing a helicopter and agents near her property. In the video, she approaches the agents and engages with them before being asked to leave the scene.

McLeod posted the video, which shows the faces of agents and one readable name tag, to YouTube. Within 12 hours, YouTube began notifying her of privacy complaints through email, giving her 48 hours to edit the video. When she did not, it was removed 10 days later.

“I thought, ‘Did I film something worth being suppressed?’ ” McLeod said.

At a time when anyone with a cellphone can become a videographer, law enforcement officials say more people are filming their actions. McLeod’s video is the latest in a fierce legal debate about what police and other law enforcement activity can be posted on the Internet.

Courts, lawyers and agencies around the nation are grappling to define the rights of citizens and responsibilities of websites when it comes to videotaping police activity.

In August, the first circuit of the United States Court of Appeals found that Simon Glik’s rights were violated after Boston police arrested Glik for alleged wiretapping violations and confiscated his cellphone because he videotaped police arresting a man.

In the case of McLeod’s Bisbee video, Wassom said, a private website like YouTube had the right to take it down, but the privacy complaints leading to its removal are disconcerting.

“That runs contrary to the spirit of the First Amendment,” he said.

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