Filming US Government Officials is Legal
There has been quite a few instances in recent years in the UK and US where police and other officials claim that they arn’t allowed to be filmed doing their jobs. This has resulted in people getting arrested, molested and harassed by law enforcement; often merely for having a camera out. Now though, US courts have legislated that the act of filming government employees is protected by first ammendment free speech. This was laid down by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, New England’s highest federal court.
The prosecution in the case was working on behalf of two individuals, both harassed and arrested by the police for filming what they considered to be police brutality. In both cases the officers in question confiscated the user’s phone, removing the offending video and images. The city’s attorneys made the case that police should be exempt from a civil rights lawsuit as it was unclear whether it was legal to film police or not. The judge decided to clear things up by stating that it is absolutely legal.
“The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles [of protected First Amendment activity].,” said the Court. “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.”
“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.”
Hopefully a ruling like this will be considered in the UK as well where we’ve had similar issues with over zealous police officers.