The First Amendment protects our right to use electronic devices to record on-duty police officers, according to a new ruling [eff.org] by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Fields v. Philadelphia [eff.org]. This right extends to anyone with a recording device, journalists and members of the public alike. And this right includes capture of photos, videos, and audio recordings.
EFF filed an amicus brief [eff.org] seeking this ruling. We argued that people routinely use their electronic devices to record and share images and audio, and that this often includes newsworthy recordings of on-duty police officers interacting with members of the public.
[...] The Third Circuit erred on the issue of "qualified immunity." This is a legal doctrine that protects government employees from paying money damages for violating the Constitution, if the specific right at issue was not clearly established at the time they violated it. In Fields, the Third Circuit unanimously held that going forward, the First Amendment protects the right to record the police. But the majority held that this right was not clearly established at the time the police officers in the case violated this right.
According to Slate [slate.com], similar rulings have been issued in the First, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits. The new decision addressed two cases in Philadelphia:
Friday's decision involved two instances in which the Philadelphia police retaliated against citizens attempting to film them. In the first incident, a legal observer named Amanda Geraci tried to film police arresting an anti-fracking protester when an officer pinned her against a pillar, preventing her from recording the arrest. In the second, a Temple University sophomore named Richard Fields tried to film police officers breaking up a house party when an officer asked him whether he "like[d] taking pictures of grown men" and demanded that he leave. When Fields refused, the officer arrested and detained him, confiscating his phone and looking through its photos and videos. The officer cited Fields for "Obstructing Highway and Other Public Passages," although the charges were dropped when the officer failed to appear at a court hearing. Geraci and Fields filed civil rights suits against the officers who interfered with their filming attempts.
Writing for the court, Judge Thomas Ambro agreed that both Geraci and Fields held a constitutional right to record the police—a right that officers violated in both instances. "The First Amendment protects the public's right of access to information about their officials' public activities," Ambro wrote. This access "is particularly important because it leads to citizen discourse" on public and political issues, the most highly valued First Amendment activity. Thus, the government is constitutionally barred from "limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw."
Anything you say or do may be uploaded to YouTube.
Previously: Right to Record Police Established in U.S. Fifth Circuit [soylentnews.org]