District Digest: Rediscovering the First Amendment

This week in D.C. news, featuring the MPD’s acknowledgement of the First Amendment, more on Mayor Gray madness, and the latest Amtrak upgrade.

Yes, the First Amendment still holds.

Washington, D.C.’s Police Chief Cathy Lanier issued an order earlier this week specifically permitting citizens to photograph metropolitan police officers while they are present in a public space, so long as it doesn’t interfere with their police work.

“The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) recognizes that members of the general public have a First Amendment right to video record, photograph, and/or audio record MPD members while MPD members are conducting official business or while acting in an official capacity in any public space, unless such recordings interfere with police activity,” the official order reads.

The general order clarifies police policy regarding photography, and even goes as far to say that police cannot ask that individuals stop recording, detain individuals for exercising this right, view photos on a camera without a warrant, or intentionally block cameras. However, the policy does not permit bystanders to enter an area taped off by police simply by virtue of having a camera.

The order stems from a case last year when in Alexandria, a man accused MPD of wrongfully arresting him for photographing a traffic stop in Georgetown. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, he sued and the matter was settled out-of-court. Even so, MDP officers allegedly illegally confiscated a citizen’s cell phone last Friday—one day after the order went into effect.

Gray’s 2010 campaign used database of residents in public housing.

The Washington Post reported last Sunday that they had uncovered a list of D.C. public housing residents in a cache of campaign documents that they had obtained from former campaign officials. The list includes the private information of residents names, addresses, and phone numbers. Use of this information by a political campaign could constitute breach of local and federal privacy law.

The Post reports: “It is unclear who assembled the list or how the campaign got it, but two campaign workers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of an ongoing federal investigation, said it was used in the final week before the Democratic primary election to register residents and get voters to the polls. The workers said the tenant roster was a tool used to target people the Gray campaign thought would support him over then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.”

The 2010 Democratic mayoral primary was the first election during which same-day registration was permitted. According to the Post‘s analysis, precincts with a large number of residents on public housing experienced the highest increase in voter turnout. It happens, too, that these areas were the among those that most heavily favored Gray over Fenty in the 2010 Democratic mayoral primary.

Gray denied knowing that his campaign possessed such public-housing rolls. All this comes following the uncovering of the so-called “shadow campaign, which aided the mayor in the 2010 Democratic primary.

Although the voter lists are technically public information under federal and local Freedom of Information acts, use of this information for a political campaign would be considered clearly “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The Post found that no Freedom of Information Act requests were filed for this information, suggesting that the documents were obtained illegally.

Amtrak’s planned $7 billion upgrade of Union Station.

The public rail service announced plans this Wednesday to overhaul Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, in an effort to triple passenger capacity and transform the station into a high-speed rail hub for the northeast. The station already has the second-highest volume in the country. The station suffers from traffic jams, congestion during rush hour and tourist events, and the concourses and platforms cannot add more services despite rising demand.

The renovation will also expand the station’s retail space by 3 million square feet and add a glass-encased entrance to the station. The final result would mean a high-speed rail line that could facilitate 94-minute routes to New York City, over an hour faster than the lines today.

Photo: Andrew Bossi (Flickr)

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