Filming Police is Legal: Bizarre Fact: You May Still be Arrested for it
There has been a bizarre trend in the United States of citizens being arrested under a law that does not exist. This supposed law prohibits people from doing surveillance -- taking photos and video -- of police officers as they go about their duties in public areas. It is a misinterpretation of other laws that prohibit obstruction of justice, recording audio without a person's knowledge and doing surveillance on private property. In the two former cases, you can be arrested. In the latter case, you can be arrested for trespassing. However, you cannot legally be arrested for filming anything you see on public property or your property, for that matter.
Despite the above, it happens all the time. Police are arresting people, confiscating their film and, at times, even deleting it. Unless there is reasonable suspicion that you are breaking a law, police cannot so much as detain you without your permission. So, why is this even a problem? Well, that is a good question and what makes this situation so bizarre. There seems to be no doubt whatsoever as to the legality of filming police officers in public, yet police and even lawmakers in some areas try their best to change that. Without completely eradicating the First Amendment, it is impossible. There is also the little matter of police working for us, not the other way around.
According to the ACLU, they are working hard to protect those who are wrongly charged with a crime that does not exist. They United States judicial system is hard at work clarifying this issue as well. The First Circuit Court of Appeals found in the case of Simon Glick vs. John Cunniffe, Peter J. Savalis, Jerome Hall Brewster and the City of Boston that, "The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles [first amendment rights]. Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting "the free discussion of governmental affairs.""
Here are some tips from the ACLU about what to do if you are wrongly detained for filming police officers. Remember, if the police officer does not know you are taping him or her and you are picking up their voices, you can be charged with violating wiretapping laws, if they exist in your state.
Posted by Michelle Barclay