Videotaping Police is Your First Amendment Right

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on July 16, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Videotaping police during encounters with law enforcement is not just a trend; it's also your First Amendment right.

At least, that's what courts are saying.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2011 that people have a First Amendment right to record the police. A Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision from June 2012 ruled that laws prohibiting citizens from videotaping police violate the First Amendment.

The Department of Justice also recently sent a letter to Baltimore's police force reminding them that the First Amendment allows people to videotape police in public places, reports Time Magazine.

But for all you aspiring Spielbergs out there, don't hit record just yet.

Courts have recognized a right to record the police, but like all legal rights there are limits to what is allowed.

Secretly recording someone is an invasion of privacy; people must know they are being filmed so they can choose to leave and avoid camera-time. If you decide to videotape police make sure you tell them before you start recording.

Some states require consent before filming a subject. But most of them agree that on-duty police officers have no right to privacy on the job so consent is not generally required.

Even if you are filming, you still should comply with police requests for you to step back or identify yourself. It is a crime to resist arrest so make sure your camera isn't getting in the way of any police procedure.

If police question your filming always be polite. Hold your camera low and close to your body to appear non-aggressive and calmly explain that you have a right to film.

Don't belittle or undermine officers' authority. Remember that police have a duty to keep civilians safe. While there may be some bad apples, the vast majority of cops are good people who do their job well.

To help protect your First Amendment rights, the New Jersey ACLU branch has put out an app called Police Tape that allows you to videotape encounters with police. The app also offers tip on your rights during police encounters and is available, for free, for Android phones.

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