Rule #1: Know the Law (Wherever You Are)
by Jason Bassler
The law in 38 states plainly allows citizens to record police, as long as you don’t physically interfere with their work. Police might still unfairly harass you, detain you, or confiscate your camera. They might even arrest you for some catchall misdemeanor such as obstruction of justice or disorderly conduct. But you will not be charged for illegally recording police.
There are 12 states (In green above) in total that enforce an all-party-consent law, but only three interpret it to include public places of gathering with absolutely no expectation of privacy.
However, In Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland (In blue above) wiretapping and eavesdropping laws have
been used to prosecute individuals who have recorded police activity in a
In one example, motorcyclist Anthony
John Graber III was stopped for reckless driving. A plain-clothes police
officer stopped him, jumped out of his car waving a gun and screaming,
and issued a ticket. Graber had a video camera mounted in his motorcycle
helmet; he posted video of the encounter to youtube. Ten days after the
police encounter, after police found the video on youtube, Graber was
arrested and charged under felony wiretapping laws, which could result
in up to 5 years jail time (the charges were later dropped).
Conceived at a time when pocket-sized recording devices were available
only to James Bond types, most eavesdropping laws were originally
intended to protect people against snoops, spies, and peeping Toms. Now
with this technology in the hands of average citizens, police and
prosecutors are abusing these outdated laws to punish citizens merely
attempting to document on-duty police.
In most circumstances, officers will not immediately bum rush you for
filming them. But if they aren’t properly trained, they might feel like
their authority is being challenged. And all too often police are simply
ignorant of the law. Part of your task will be to convince them that
you’re not a threat while also standing your ground.