“You have a right to record the police”

The First Circuit federal court of appeals has ruled that the First Amendment protects the right to record police officers’ public activity, notwithstanding a Massachusetts law banning “wiretapping.” Meanwhile, in Chicago, a jury speedily acquitted Tiawanda Moore on charges that she had committed a similar offense by using her Blackberry to record the visit of officers who were attempting to talk her out of a sexual harassment complaint against a member of the force. [Glenn Reynolds, Examiner, Gizmodo; earlier here, here]


  • The First Amendment aspect that appeals to me is
    “the right of the people… to… petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In public complaints against police officers, the police officer is nearly always given the benefit of the doubt. A recording guarantees that a valid “grievance” will be taken seriously.

    I do *not* see a broader reporter’s right to place random recordings of policemen (or of anyone else) on the Internet without their consent, eg a video of “Cops picking their noses,” or a database of undercover cops.

  • Hugo,
    Funny thing is, you can record anyone doing anything in a public place without consent and put it on the web at will. You video a cop doing anything at all in a public place (like your own front yard) and you’re ordered to stop with threat of jail.

  • Glad to see that the First Circuit has addressed this. I have never understood the logic behind these state laws prohibiting recording police doing their job in public. Creating such an obvious double standard should require a pretty compelling reason, but the only obvious reason I see is that the police (and other public officials) do not want you to know what they’re really doing. If you believe all of the noble and wonderful things that police officers tell you that they do each day, you’d think they’d welcome the recognition. Go figure!

  • I have more than a few police officers in my circle of friends, the good ones don’t mind being recorded as long as you don’t interfere with their trying to do their job. In fact, they appreciate it because if they are doing their job correctly it will document that they didn’t call the perp racist names, needlessly slam the perp’s head into the sidewalk, etc. They say is really nothing as sweet as the look on a perp’s face who has been crying “wolf” for the last hour when the commanding officer offers to play back the dashboard cam.

    On the other hand if they have spent the last year creating an undercover persona, unless they are doing something bad, if they politely ask you to not record them, you might want to just move along. Politeness is relative to the situation, ie, the resistance of the future incarcerated.