Lately, we have been hearing a lot about people getting into legal trouble for recording on-duty police officers with their cell phones or camcorders. Not only are these people being harassed, having their cameras and other recording equipment confiscated, but in some cases they’ve been arrested and jailed. The interesting thing here is that these people were not breaking any laws, but were in fact entitled to recording police by the first amendment. This right was confirmed by a federal appellate court last week.
The court had stated that recording police officers perferming their duties in a public space is a “basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.”
This right to gather and disseminate news is not one that belongs solely to the media, a particularly important principle in this modern era of the news industry, when “changes in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw,” the court said.
“The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status.”
This court decision marks a major victory in a time when arrests for recording on-duty police officers are on the rise and will hopefully end the confusion over whether these recordings are legal or not. Keep in mind, however, that recordings can still considered illegal if they are done secretly and without consent of all the parties involved; therefore, if you are going to record police officers, even if they don’t officially give you consent (which you have as your First Amendment right) you simply need to make them aware that they are being recorded. This can be done by either telling them that they are being recorded or by using a device that makes it obviously clear that you’re recording, such as a cell phone or regular camera.