Top cop lays out plan to prevent recording of police actions
Interior Ministry denies reform will impinge on right to information but judges question legality of preventing citizens from recording security forces
The director general of police, Ignacio Cosidó, announced on Thursday that the authorities are studying the possibility that the next update to the Public Security Law could include an article prohibiting the recording, processing or circulation on the internet of police officers performing their duties, if doing so would endanger them or the operation in which they were engaged.
The police chief said the reform to the Public Security Law, which is being studied by the Interior Ministry, would seek to “strike a balance between the protection of the rights of citizens and those of members of the security forces. Only in recognition of the immense labor of the security forces are we able to progress toward achieving a more just, safer and peaceful society.”
The reform to the law could also include a penalty for taking part in a protest with a covered face.
Cosidó was speaking at a meeting with the Independent Labor Union of Public Workers (CSI-F), the Spanish Confederation of Police (CEP) and the European Confederation of Independent Labor Unions (CESI), which was convened to analyze the effects of the economic crisis on the operation of security forces.
The measure, Cosidó said, is designed to protect the privacy of officers and their families and guarantee their rights of honor and image. The government, he said, will be able to “take a step forward” in providing the police with more safety to go about their work, “with strict compliance with the rule of law.”
During recent protests in Madrid, the actions of police were placed under the spotlight after videos were posted on the internet showing riot officers storming into the Atocha railway station firing smoke pellets and beating bystanders with their batons.
The director general also took the opportunity to express his support for the draft of a reform to the Penal Code that, he said, “sets out the basis for the prevention and prosecution of conduct that prevents a serious threat to public order.”
Among the proposed changes to the law is the definition of a violent attack, which will include any aggression or threats of violence against security forces and ambulance and fire crews.
After the police chief’s declarations, one of the largest unions, the Unified Union of Police (SUP), expressed its concern that Cosidó’s comments were “wishful thinking, we hope not demagogic, that doesn’t mention how to prevent the recording of images, something that would appear to be impossible in the technological society in which we live.”
In a statement, SUP suggested that Cosidó was trying to “deflect attention from the reality of the loss of purchasing power” of its members, after government cuts to public sector workers’ pay. “We ask that a comparative legal report with our neighboring democracies be drawn up to evaluate how they deal with the problem,” the union stated.
Judges for Democracy (JpD), a professional association of judges and magistrates, questioned the legality of preventing citizens from recording photos and videos of police officers on duty. The association’s spokesman, Joaquim Bosch, said the proposed reform was “extremely ambiguous and in no instance should be used to prevent the circulation of excesses on the part of police.”
Bosch also pointed out that the constitutional right to transparency of the actions of police officers takes preference over the right of security agents not to be photographed or filmed.
The Interior Ministry later clarified that the reform is still in the preliminary stage and its objective is not to prevent people taking photographs or recordings in protests on public streets, but will be applied in those instances when the presence of a television crew could place a police operation in danger, interfere with the arrest of a suspect, or increase the risk to on-duty officers. The ministry added that the proposed reform would not contradict the right to freedom of expression or information.