Citizens Have Right to Videotape Police Arrests, 1st Circuit Rules

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on August 31, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As stories have surfaced detailing arrests based solely on the recording of law enforcement, there has been some concern over whether or not it is legal to videotape police.

Though a number of states (FL, IL, MA, MD, NH) have used wiretapping and eavesdropping statutes to answer this question in the negative, last week's decision by the First Circuit in Glik v. Cunniffe came to a different conclusion.

Honing in on a group of cases throughout the varying circuits, the court found that there is a "constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public."

This case was brought by attorney Simon Glik, who was charged with illegal wiretapping after he stood 10 feet away and used a cell phone to record Boston police officers beating a suspect.

Denying the officers' request for immunity, the court pointed out that videotaping police falls squarely within the First Amendment's interest in "protecting and promoting the free discussion of governmental affairs."

A significant amount of prior jurisprudence recognizes both the right to gather news via legal means and to film officials and matters of public interest.

However, it must be noted that the right to videotape police is not absolute.

As with all protected First Amendment rights, persons filming law enforcement are subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.

On a basic level, this means that, in the First Circuit, it is legal to videotape police so long as one does not interfere with the carrying out official duties or engage in harassment. So if you decide to film, exercise a little common sense and discretion.

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