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Federal Court Says You Can Record the Cops

by Sam Biddle

August 30, 2011

Remember that nutcase cop who arrested a bystander for recording a public crime scene? Yeah, that was a violation of the First Amendment, according to the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston. This is great news.

The ruling originates with a suit filed by Boston attorney Simon Glik, who was arrested for recording another arrest in the middle of the Boston Common. You know, the enormous, oldest public park in America. A pretty public place.

The cops had cuffed Glik and taken his phone on the basis that his recording was “secret”—a violation of state wiretapping laws. This should be patently ridiculous, but it worked at the time. Until the feds stepped in. The Harvard-affiliated Citizen Media Law Project cuts right to the juiciest, most First Amendmentlicious excerpts from the court’s ruling:

“[I]s there a constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public? Basic First Amendment principles, along with case law from this and other circuits, answer that question unambiguously in the affirmative.”

“Glik filmed the defendant police officers in the Boston Common, the oldest city park in the United States and the apotheosis of a public forum. In such traditional public spaces, the rights of the state to limit the exercise of First Amendment activity are ‘sharply circumscribed.'”

“[A] citizen’s right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.”

“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.'”

In other words, the cops were out of line, and filming them with your phone is not only fair game, but strong a constitutional power of the citizenry. Although this is a district ruling, and it’d take the Supreme Court to make okayed cop-filming the law of the land, this is a terrific victory for the free use of technology, transparent society, and sanity.

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