Why not tape crime
Comment
Why not tape crime
5. 12. 2016

The whistleblowers awarded by the Anticorruption Endowment (NFPK) often share a common denominator, namely they made a recording indicating highly suspect, or even criminal action. Their tapes were not rendered difficult by the access to recording equipment, difficulty of use, or the fear of being caught in the act. The hindrance is in the public, for people sometimes think that secret recordings smack of foul, unethical play. It might clearly be the vestige of days long gone by, when secret taping served to suppress freedom of expression and basic human rights. Back then, such recordings could make one guilty of listening to blacklisted phonograph records or organizing banned theatre performances. Today, however, making records to document criminal activities is a merit bordering on heroic acts. Analogously, many members of the public do not quite distinguish between the activities of the latter-day StB secret political police and the modern-day counterintelligence service, the BIS.

The whistleblowers awarded by the Anticorruption Endowment (NFPK) often share a common denominator, namely they made a recording indicating highly suspect, or even criminal action. Their tapes were not rendered difficult by the access to recording equipment, difficulty of use, or the fear of being caught in the act. The hindrance is in the public, for people sometimes think that secret recordings smack of foul, unethical play. It might clearly be the vestige of days long gone by, when secret taping served to suppress freedom of expression and basic human rights. Back then, such recordings could make one guilty of listening to blacklisted phonograph records or organizing banned theatre performances. Today, however, making records to document criminal activities is a merit bordering on heroic acts. Analogously, many members of the public do not quite distinguish between the activities of the latter-day StB secret political police and the modern-day counterintelligence service, the BIS.

Proving corrupt activities is a very tough job and the strength of “mere” testimony will often prove weak and insufficient. Mutually contradictory testimonies are common occurrence. Quite often, it is records and various tapings that prove a criminal past.

Do you believe that recordings on corrupt behaviour should be made only by police or secret services? Wrong and foul! Police can work better if they can tie their operative technique to a recording they have received. Sometimes police cannot really prove crime by using operative technical means too late. The NFPK knows a lot about it and can produce many model examples. Thus in 2013, labour inspectors visited the Prague restaurant, I Love Mama and told its owner, Mr. Kaštil, that they could impose a devastating fine on him, although they were probably not authorized to mete out such penalty. Significantly, they immediately proposed to forego the penalty if they receive a bribe, amounting to 50,000 CZK. In this situation, Mr. Kaštil refused to pay and told them he has to think it over and would need another meeting. But there and then, a key moment arrived: Mr. Kaštil made a recording of that conversation and presented it to the police. The further recording steps were orchestrated by police up until the arrest of the inspectors, caught in the act of receiving the bribe. This model example could serve as a sort of guidance to human behaviour. Would it be possible to apprehend the corrupt inspectors if Mr. Kaštil had refused to pay the bribe, make the recording and merely told the at a later date? It would have been doubly difficult, indeed almost impossible, to catch the “inspectors”.

Recording made all the difference in case of whistleblower František Mráček, an awardee of the NFPK Prize for Courage: A recording proved that his dismissal from office had been a political task, since his activities rubbed somebody the wrong way. Mr. Mráček won court and proved that he had been unlawfully sacked.

Making recordings in public interest is therefore both legitimate and necessary for the common good. But in spite of that, the persons concerned are still adamant that the recordings were illegal, which is complete nonsense. Understandably, such recordings must not encroach on personal privacy or even disclose classified information. In such case they would be certainly rendered illegal. However, secretly recording in public interest is an eminently legitimate activity, as confirmed by many court cases and findings.

I was recently puzzled by the assertions of Prague Technical University president Petr Konvalinka that a secretly made private recording of his condemned employee, Miroslav Elfmark, was illegal. In addition to being condemned for massive tax evasion, Mr. Elfmark was implicated in and accessory to many other cases, pointed at by the Anticorruption Endowment. In the wake of several highly suspect circumstances, corroborated by the said recording in this particular case, half of the Senate of the Prague Technical University supported the call for dismissing the institution’s head, Petr Konvalinka. Let me make the point once again: making a recording in public interest is not illegal, but it is truly a heroic act. Legal support for the provision of such recordings is embodied in the Constitutional Court Ruling from 9 December 2014, namely ÚS 1774/14, or a Supreme Court jurisprudence (namely Resolution of 11 May 2005, concerning Ref. No. 30, File No. 30 64/2004).

 

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