The right to film police in the performance of their public duties in a public space is a “basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment,” a federal appellate court held last week, marking a major victory in a time when arrests for such activities have been on the rise.
— The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press
This court ruling stems from a 2007 incident in which Simon Glik recorded three police officers arresting a man on the Boston Common. Glik was arrested, his cell phone and a flash drive were confiscated and he was charged with various offenses.
He filed a civil rights lawsuit against the officers and Boston and this ruling allows his case to proceed.
Cases where law enforcement officers have arrested or confiscated cameras of people, particularly non-journalists, recording events taking place in a public place are becoming alamringly more common.
The court’s ruling in the Glik case hopefully may temper the trend. It wrote:
“It is firmly established that the First Amendment’s aegis extends further
than the text’s proscription on laws ‘abridging the freedom of speech, or of the
press,’ and encompasses a range of conduct related to the gathering and
dissemination of information,” the court said. “The filming of government
officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers
performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles.
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.’”
This right to gather and disseminate news is not one that belongs solely to
the media, a particularly important principle in this modern era of the news
industry, when “changes in technology and society have made the lines between
private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw,” the court said.
Mike Masnick writing in TechDirt said: “While this case isn’t over yet, it’s still a huge victory for those arrested by police for filming them in action. It suggests such people can bring charges against the police for civil rights violations in taking away their First Amendment rights. A tremendous ruling all around.”