SEPTEMBER 02, 2011
Following a number of incidents in which individuals were arrested for videotaping police officers, a federal appellate court has ruled that filming government officials while on duty is protected by the First Amendment as most of the arrestees have claimed.Police departments across the U.S. have long asserted that citizens don’t have the right to videotape officers while they conduct official duties. The issue has become especially heated in the last few years because a growing number of law-abiding citizens have gotten booked for taping officers at work.One of the cases made it up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which recently ruled that cops can be recorded while they’re working. The case involves an attorney (Simon Glik) arrested and charged with violating a wiretap statute in 2007 for using his cell phone to record Boston police officers making an arrest.When a state court dismissed the charges against Glik, he filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court claiming that Boston Police officers violated his First Amendment rights by stopping him from recording and his Fourth Amendment rights by arresting him without probable cause. Boston Police asked the court to dismiss the case based on qualified immunity from lawsuits as officers acting within the scope of their duties.But a few days ago the federal appellate court settled the issue, ruling that the filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place fits comfortably within the principles of protected First Amendment activity. The court also noted that police officers are to expect to deal with certain “burdens” as citizens practice First Amendments rights.”Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting the free discussion of governmental affairs,” the three-judge panel wrote, adding that police officers should have understood this all along and that videotaping public officials is not limited to the press.”Moreover, changes in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw,” the court continued. “The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status.”
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