PetaPixel

US Department of Justice Defends Photographers’ Right to Record Police

Earlier we reported on two separate cases where video evidence of police shot by random citizens wound up being crucial in the exoneration of photographers arrested while doing their job. Well, appropriately enough, the US Department of Justice just recently came out in defense of the right to record police while they are on duty.

In an 11-page letter addressed to the Baltimore Police Department, the DOJ stated in no uncertain terms that “the press does not have a monopoly on either the First Amendment or the ability to enlighten,” and that the seizure of recording equipment and videos without a warrant constitutes a Fourteenth Amendment violation.

The letter comes after the DOJ was unhappy with how the police department handled the case of one Mr. Christopher Sharp, who had his phone taken from him and all video evidence destroyed after he recorded the police arresting and beating his acquaintance. The courts attempted to dismiss Sharp’s case by citing an oft-used loophole in the law which allows officers to interfere with recordings if the person recording video is actively violating a law.

Although the letter is addressed specifically to the Baltimore Police Department, the DOJ made it clear that the letter “reflects the United States’ position on the basic elements of a constitutionally adequate policy on individuals’ right to record police activity.” And many are hopeful that this sort of positive interference by the federal government will make citizens’ rights more clear and ensure that loopholes, like the one the BPD was using, will not be tolerated.

(via The Verge)


Image credit: US Department of Justice by kabl1992


 
  • Coyote Red

    It is scary how little police know of citizens’ rights to record in public places.

    It’s also hard to explain to a young lady that it’s not against the law for some jackass to take pictures of her crotch while she’s in a public place.

    When someone says “there ought to be a law” I get on my soapbox and lecture about police states, personal freedoms, and secret police actions that can take place if there is no freedom to photograph or record anything that takes place in a public place.

    Anyway, it’s good to know I can point to a particular ruling when discussing this with other police instead of sounding like a crazy old-hippie in a police uniform.

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  • Pact Kev

    I live in California and the thing that interests me is the fact that California is a two party state, which means that both parties must consent for audio recording. I use my Iphone for most of my daily photography and video recording. If police don’t consent to being audio recorded, what would happen?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/RCE7AQUYJIXKND6RSXJIQZB4IY Tom

    @c6984cb5ef37954447bb496fa93ebe65:disqus According to http://www.rcfp.org/can-we-tape/california the two party status only applies when there is an expectation of privacy. Most of the two party consent state laws require an expectation of privacy in order for the recording to be illegal. To the best of my knowledge, Illinois is the only one that doesn’t require an expectation of privacy, and the Illinois law was just declared “probably” unconstitutional by the appeals court.
    Maryland is a two party state, and the Graber case was clear that the law did not apply to police in public. 

    If you decide to record police in public without their consent, police can decide to charge you anyways. Then it is up to you if you want to fight the case in court based on the fact that they have no expectation of privacy when on duty in public and/or any application of the law in public spaces is unconstitutional. A chat with the local ACLU office may also be helpful. 

    That being said, I’m not an attorney, and this is not legal advice. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of http://www.rcfp.org or any other information on the internet.