Whether or not citizens are allowed to photograph or video record the police as they go about their business in public has become a hot topic in many parts of the country. People have been arrested for no other offense than using a phone or a flip cam to record a traffic stop while not interfering in any way. The police, in many instances, have asserted a right to privacy which they claim protects them from being recorded.
This is wrong. There is no such right, and the courts have begun to uphold this. The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals last year ruled that there is no distinction between journalists and average citizens when it comes to the right to document information. “[C]hanges in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw,” wrote the court. “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.”
It is in that context that the ACLU has released a phone app which encourages citizens to record police officers:
It seems like a wonderful idea to me. After all, if the police aren’t doing anything wrong, what do they have to worry about?