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The filming of government officials while on duty is protected by the First Amendment, said the Court

The First Circuit Court of Appeals reached a crucial decision last Friday allowing the public to videotape police officers while they're on the clock.

The decision comes after a string of incidents where individuals have videotaped police officers and were arrested. Police officers across the United States believed citizens didn't have the right to videotape them as they conducted official duties, but issues like police brutality put the issue up for debate.

One instance where a citizen was arrested for videotaping an officer was when Khaliah Fitchette, a law-abiding teenager from New Jersey, boarded a bus in Newark. Two police officers boarded the bus as well to remove a drunken man. Fitchette began taping the police officers because of how they were handling the man, and a police officer instructed her to stop recording them. When Fitchette refused, she was arrested and placed in the back of a cop car for two hours while the officers took her phone to delete the video. Fitchette was then released, but she and her mother then filed suit against the Newark Police Department with the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Another example involves Simon Glik, a passerby on the Boston Common. He used his cell phone to tape police officers when the Boston police were punching a man. Citizens surrounding the scene were saying, "You're hurting him." Glik never interfered with the police officers' actions, but recorded the entire incident. The police officers ended up charging Glik with violating a wiretap statute that prohibits secret recording, even though the police officers admitted that they knew Glik was recording them. He was also charged with disturbing the peace and aiding the escape of a prisoner.

While all charges against Glik were dropped due to lack of merit, he still decided to join forces with the ACLU and file a civil rights suit to prevent a similar incident from occurring with others.

On Friday, August 26, 2011, the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which is New England's highest federal court just below the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled that citizens are allowed to videotape law officials while they conduct official duties.

The city's attorneys made the argument that police officers should have been exempt from a civil rights lawsuit in the first place in this case because the law is unclear as to whether there's a "constitutionally protected right to videotape police" conducting their daily duties in public.

"The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles [of protected First Amendment activity].," said the Court. "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."

The Court added that the police officers should have understood this all along, and that videotaping public officials is not limited to the press.

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

The Court concluded that police officers are to expect to deal with certain "burdens" as citizens practice First Amendment rights, but that there needs to be a healthy balance between police officers being videotaped while acting irresponsibly and the harassment of officers with recording devices while they're conducting their duties responsibly.

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By RivuxGamma on 8/31/2011 2:49:45 PM , Rating: 2
Now, if we can only get this to fly in IL where there is specifically a law making recording police officers illegal...

By wiz220 on 8/31/2011 3:17:17 PM , Rating: 2
I would think that they will have to acquiesce to this ruling at some point since federal law is the "law of the land". And this ruling was from a federal court right?

RE: i'm sooo glad that this is being upheld somewhere
By fic2 on 8/31/2011 4:14:15 PM , Rating: 4
Yes. At some point.

My understanding (IANAL) is that someone in Chicago would have to bring a similar suit against the Chicago PD. They can cite this decision as precedent but it would probably make it to the 7th Circuit Court (over IL, WI and IN). If the 7th agrees with the 1st then the Chicago PD could appeal to the Supreme Court, but I would think having 2 Circuit Courts agree I kind of doubt the Supreme would even take it up. If the 7th disagrees with the 1st then the defendants would appeal the Supreme which would probably take it up since there are two conflicting rulings.

By sorry dog on 9/1/2011 12:22:49 PM , Rating: 2
Correct...Ruling is only binding to courts under 1st district federal court. However, since that is the most senior court to rule on the issue then attorneys' arguing cases in other federal districts OR state courts would have a very strong precedent to cite for their case at hand.
...But the supreme court is becoming increasingly fickle about which cases they take. Just because something is unfair or there are conflicting lower court decisions does not mean the supreme court with hear it. In 2009 the court received 8159 requests but only heard 87 cases.
...but in this case that's all the better as that makes it unlikely that case law on this matter will be reversed.

By UNHchabo on 8/31/2011 5:09:24 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, but I'm pretty sure that the ruling only is binding in that circuit. A judge in Illinois' circuit can rule differently, even though it's unlikely because the precedent is there.

In order for the ruling to be accepted nationwide without question, it has to go to the Supreme Court.

By nocturne_81 on 9/2/2011 3:15:46 AM , Rating: 2
That's not at all the case... the reason the circuit court system exists to begin with is because there are far more cases than the Supreme court could ever hope to preside over (though still, 2/3 days being vacation -- hell of a job). A circuit court ruling anywhere applies to the entire nation (exactly why corporations do 'district-shopping' to find the best court to file their complaint). If any state has a law that contradicts the nationwide ruling, though; unfortunately that law still technically stands until the next court case, where the lawyers of the defendants will have to argue with the federal ruling on their side to take the case up to the state's supreme court, which then in turn will rule the law unconstitutional.

I know... doesn't make any sense at all... One of the hazards of being such a large and diversely incompetent nation.

By Jeffk464 on 8/31/2011 4:43:05 PM , Rating: 2
Federal court, so if Illinois tries to enforce their law they just bought themselves a huge lawsuit.

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