Major federal court ruling changes the game for filming law enforcement

One of the interesting side effects of the rapid growth of technologies like camera phones and the ability to record video with them that can then be uploaded online to places like YouTube is that the police are finding themselves under the watchful eye of the public.

This has, understandably, made police forces around the world, not just the U.S., very nervous and as a result there has almost been a war going on between the police and those that would film them. Much like Simon Glik did back in 2007 when he filmed police performing an arrest with what he thought was excessive force.

The police didn’t like this and ended up arresting him but after a period of time the charges were dropped. For Glik that wasn’t the end of it as he then launched as lawsuit against the police for violating his first and fourth amendment rights. It has taken many dismissals and appeals but finally the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit have made a ruling on the case and came out in favor of Glik.

From the court’s ruling (via Geekosystem)

The First Amendment issue here is, as the parties frame it, fairly narrow: is 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. 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. As the Supreme Court has observed, “the First Amendment goes beyond protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.”

Moreover, changes in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw. 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.

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It might be as slow as molasses but the courts are beginning to see daylight when it comes to technology and our rights.