Just about everyone today has instant access to taking pictures and recording video via their smartphones and at the rate YouTube and live streams are growing, people across the world can view those videos instantaneously. While there have been many cases of police trying to force bystanders and journalists to turn off their cameras in recent years, the Department of Justice finally came out late last week in defense of the American people and the constitution.
Stemming from a case brought by the ACLU of Maryland in defense of citizens’ right to record, the DOJ sent a letter to the Baltimore Police Department stating people are allowed to record the actions of police so long as they are in a public place. In reference to the First Amendment, the DOJ letters states, “Recording governmental officers engaged in public duties is a form of speech through which private individuals may gather and disseminate information of public concern, including the conduct of law enforcement officers.” Furthermore, the letter states this isn’t restricted to public places, “Courts have also extended First Amendment protection to recordings taken on private property, including an individual filming police activity from his or her home or other private property where an individual has a right to be present.” The letter even references the 1991 videotaped assault of Rodney King, stating how this provided key evidence in the case against the offending officers.
In an announcement by the ACLU, they noted the “NATO 3” summit that took place in Chicago this past weekend and how “At all of these events, protesters, the press, and bystanders alike will be carrying sophisticated smartphones that permit high-quality video and audio recordings of police activities. Not only will this monitoring heighten trust in the authorities, it will discourage police abuse and provide a record of any such abuse (which protects both law enforcement and protesters alike).” Interestingly enough, reports have been flooding the internet today of police illegally seizing and destroying photographer equipment belong to journalists and protesters alike. Apparently the rules (see “H.R. 347”) don’t apply to everyone.