Ok, so there are a ton of threads on this topic but not quite in this light, at least that I could find. I have heard the ridiculous amount of chatter
about it being illegal to film police in certain states and people being hurt, charged, or having their phones confiscated. I decided to do find out
for myself and I have good news. Well semi-good news.
Firstly, to make a strong point right here, it is unlawful for police to charge you with breaking eavesdropping or wiretapping laws if you are filming
them in a public place. It is doubly unlawful for a judge or jury to convict you of these charges. The obvious reason that it is unlawful for a police
officer to charge you with this is because it would be false arrest as you have not broken the law. The reason why it is unlawful to convict you of
these charges is because of one great reason, the supremacy clause of our Constitution:
Article VI Clause 2 of the Constitution reads:
"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under
the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the
Constitution or Law of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding."
(Good link to the Article)
The reason Article VI applies here is because of a certain court case, namely Simon Glik vs.The City of Boston. The court in charge of this case was
The first Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal court. Simon was walking on the Boston Common and pulled out his cell phone and starting video taping
Boston police who were apparently punching a man. Bystanders were reportedly shouting, "You're hurting him." The police arrested Simon and
confiscated his phone. He was charged with violating a wiretap statute, aiding the escape of a prisoner, and disturbing the peace. The court threw it
out because obviously it was ridiculous as most of these cases are. Simon and ACLU filed a civil rights suit against the city of Boston. The court
ruled on August 26th, 2011. Their ruling was very clear:
"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
"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."
You can download the courts ruling as a PDF from here: aclum.org/sites/all/files/legal/glik_v_cunniffe/appeals_court_ruling.pdf
A few more links to a few different websites version of the story:
So, back to that Article of the Constitution. A federal court ruled that filming police while performing official duties is a protected right under
the first amendment. Article VI Clause 2 specifically says that any Law of any State cannot be on the contrary, and all Judges in every State shall be
bound by the Constitution being the supreme Law of the Land.
In other words, we are protected by the first amendment against state laws that infringe on that first amendment right. We are also protected from the
misuse of the meaning, direction, or nature of anything in the Constitution. If by federal ruling our first amendment right protects our ability to
film officers, any state law misused or even "lawfully" put in to place is superseded by the United States Constitution.
Now for the semi-bad news.
Police all across the nation are still arresting people for these bogus charges.Many times courts just throw them out but the issue still stands. For
a very good instance we can reference Michael Allison. Michael was arrested and charged with 5 felony eavesdropping violations. He faces 75 years in
prison. Even after that courts ruling on the matter the state of Illinois is still refusing to drop these unlawful charges. Allison filmed officers in
his yard inspecting vehicles that he was working on at the time. When he submitted the tape to court he was arrested. So it is still dangerous to an
extent, but it shouldn't be. If these cases are continually taken to higher courts or simply pursued they will absolutely fall because of our
(Michael Allison's story)
Remember your liberty, its been yours all along.