Do You Have the Right to Videotape the Police?

Posted By Levi

August 14th, 2014 7:05pm

Category: Civil Liberties

Don't shoot

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By now you may be aware of the tense situation between police and citizens protesting the shooting of a young unarmed black man by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

The circumstances of the shooting is still unclear but during one of the protests, police demanded that citizens in the crowd turn off their cameras and stop taking pictures of the police.

Police generally do not like when we take pictures of them in the public. But with the proliferation of camera phones, many of us find it irresistible not to take pictures or turn on the video recorder when we see the police engaged in some kind of activity.

Time and time again we have read stories of police demanding citizens who try to videotape them to turn off their cameras and even threatening to seize their phones.

Is it legal to take pictures of the police while they are carrying out their official duties?

Yes, you have a constitutional right to do so even if the police objects to it. But you must do so in a way that do not interfere with the police carrying out their duties.

It is true that in some states there are laws that say you cannot record anyone without their consent. However, federal courts have consistently said that the First Amendment of the Constitution gives citizen the right to record police in public while carrying out their duties.

Besides, the Department of Justice has also backed up the federal court’s stance by reminding police departments they are not allowed to harass citizens for recording them.

“The right to record police officers while performing duties in a public place, as well as the right to be protected from the warrantless seizure and destruction of those recordings, are not only required by the Constitution.  They are consistent with our fundamental notions of liberty, promote the accountability of our government officers, and instill public confidence in the police officers who serve us daily.”

Also, the police do not have the right to confiscate your phone or camera, or delete its contents, just because you were recording them.

In fact, just recently, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it is now illegal for the police to take your cellphone and search it without a warrant. The Court says the Fourth Amendment protects the contents on our cellphones. If the police wants to seize it and search it contents, they must first get a warrant from a judge.

Does it mean that the police won’t tell you to turn off your camera or even try to seize it? Of course, some will. If the police say they will arrest you if you continue to use your camera, its best to put the camera away than risk being arrested.

If you think you might want to use your camera to photograph the police, it’s a good idea to read this from the ACLU, Know Your Rights When Taking Photos and Making Video and Audio Recordings.

Twitter: @Levianthony123

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