I am a citizen concerned about the erosion of our civil liberties. So, I have set out on a quest to audit local officials near me by arriving with a cell/video camera to walk through local official buildings that my taxpayer funds support and pay the elected officials salaries.
This process is known as 1st amendment auditing:
First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Definition of First Amendment Auditing: The practice of exercising one’s constitutional right to record video for the purpose of educating anyone who attempts to infringe that right and commending those who respect it.
A successful audit is one in which the auditor is treated the same as they would be treated without a camera.
Many people also consider audits to be successful if security or law enforcement is called, with only minor questioning before the called party leaves.
Essentially, a citizen journalist chooses to audit a public building and government staffing by filming as they utilize the non-private areas. The act of filming allows the auditor to test the building staff and or law enforcement on their adherence to the US Constitution and ensure our first amendment rights or protected.
The goal is transparency and accountability to the citizens who fund the governance. These audits can occur in any public-funded seat of local, state, or federal government such as courthouses, sheriff offices, and city halls just to name a few. Auditors are not adversarial, pose no threats, and respect private offices and courtrooms. The US Supreme Court has ruled Photography/video is considered a legitimate right inside government buildings, read cases here.
The act of walking through the doors of your City Hall and into the lobby with your cell phone filming should not cause an alarming response…right? You would be surprised how many times auditors are met with ” That is not allowed in here” from security or general staff- but why? Perhaps it is a lack of civics knowledge and the auditor has the opportunity to educate government employees on citizens’ constitutional rights. But in the case where it is not lack of knowledge but belligerence and avoidance the purpose of why the1st amendment audits are being done in the first place becomes evident.
Take a look at my most recent audit of the Pooler, Georgia Courthouse.
On this particular day and audit, the interior tour was several floors. The architecture and beauty of this complex are obvious and very well maintained. I could note handicap accessibility and clear signage to find one’s destination. Each interaction was different and for the most part cordial. Robin, the secretary’s only concern with my presence in public areas seemed to be focused only on her avoidance of being filmed – but she was more than agreeable to my filming the reception area. The two officers who had obviously been alerted I was moving about the interior with my cell phone filming met me on the stairs. Officer Wilson asked for my identification but did force me to do so respecting my 4th amendment. And Officer Miller appeared to grasp that I was auditing and seemed quite pleased that I was doing so.
Then there was John Schmidt who abruptly appears at the top of the stairs demanding to know my purpose for being in a public government building and recording public areas. Schmidt had a clear attitude and became accusatory, cocky, and adversarial straight out the gate. It took the police officer to step in and inform me and Schmidt I was free to go about my observing, much to Schmidt’s dismay. The exchange did not lend for effective communication and the only communication Schmidt wanted was to the edict that I will be gone.
In comparison to the last audit performed in Springfield, watch here, Officer Wilson understood my constitutional rights inside a federal/county building, and Springfield’s Officer Kite did not. Kite was recorded stating “you may not come in the building in public places and record unless higher-ups approve.” What did Officer Kite not want to be observed by the public? Officer Kite’s interaction starts at 19 minutes.
If you have any observations or wish to express anything regarding watching this audit at the Pooler Courthouse please contact the city of Pooler, (912)-748-7333, and don’t forget your tax dollars pay the employees salaries.
If public officials can’t be respectful to citizens and respect their first amendment rights while the camera is rolling …what do you think they act out when no camera is there to capture it?
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