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Student activist charged with illegally livestreaming Harris staffer

Salisbury University student Jake Burdett allegedly live-streamed a meeting on Facebook with a staffer for Rep. Andy Harris.

Salisbury University student Jake Burdett allegedly streamed a meeting on Facebook Live from the office of a staffer for Rep. Andy Harris. (File photo)

A Salisbury University student and political activist is facing wiretapping charges for allegedly livestreaming a meeting with a staffer for Rep. Andy Harris last year after being told not to record.

Jake Burdett, 20, is charged with illegal recording and illegal distribution in Wicomico County Circuit Court, according to a news release Thursday from the Office of the State Prosecutor.

“We need to ensure people are respecting the boundaries set by Maryland’s wiretapping laws,” State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt said.

Burdett participated in a rally at Harris’ Salisbury office in October with Maryland Marijuana Justice, a group that lobbies for the full legalization of marijuana. Harris, a Republican, represents Maryland’s 1st District.

A Harris staffer, who is not named in the news release, offered to meet in his office with the group, including Burdett. Several staffers informed the group members that they could not record the meeting because of an office policy, but Burdett allegedly livestreamed the meeting on Facebook Live.

In a news release Thursday, Maryland Marijuana Justice accused Harris of trying to “make an example” of a young activist and called the congressman “partisan and petty.”

“Jake, who is a serious student leader, has a bright political future ahead of him that Rep. Andy Harris wants to tarnish,” Adam Eidinger, co-founder of the group, said in a statement. “In his honest attempt to provide the public with transparency into actions of a Congressional office that regularly insults marijuana reformers with false accusations, Jake’s livestream served as a conduit for the public to witness the endemic corruption in Salisbury.”

A spokesperson for Harris’ office declined to comment Thursday.

Maryland requires all parties to consent to being recorded. A violation of the wiretap law is a felony subject to up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

In an emailed statement, Burdett said that he was unaware of the wiretap law requiring all-party consent and that, though he was aware the staff said recording was against office policy, he did not know the recording was illegal. He said he deleted the video the next day.

“I figured the people had a right to hear their representative’s staffer, acting as a conduit for Rep. Harris, speaking on behalf of Rep. Harris’ stance on marijuana legalization, so I continued the livestream for transparency’s sake, again not realizing I was unintentionally committing a crime,” Burdett said.

Burdett was charged by criminal information on Feb. 7. He does not have an attorney listed in online court records. He is scheduled for an initial appearance March 1.

The Maryland Marijuana Justice news release said Burdett plans to plead guilty, but Burdett did not respond to a request for confirmation. He does not have an attorney listed in online court records.

The case is State v. Jake Burdett, C-22-CR-19-000093.

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