Don’t Film Me Bro: Getting Arrested for Filming People in Public Places

by Warner Todd Huston | July 2, 2011 11:21 am

The law has not caught up with cell phone cameras, Flip Cameras, compact video cameras, and the electronic age. Two stories being reported last weekend prove out how the ubiquity of video capture devices are often a gray area in the law.

In one case a woman in Rochester, New York, pulled out her video camera to record the actions of a local policeman as he arrested a neighbor. As it happens, this woman was standing on her own front lawn, no where near the policeman who was going about his duties, yet this cop got incensed and arrested her anyway[1]. He claimed she was guilty of obstruction of justice.

How this woman’s actions was interfering with the police officer is impossible to figure, but she was detained nonetheless.

It is obviously a sham arrest. But, the law is not clear and tis lack of clarity gave this thug cop the room he needed to attack this woman who was merely standing there filming the arrest.

In a second case, two journalists got themselves arrested for taking photos and video with their cell phones in a public meeting. For all the gritty details, check out Robert Johnson’s recounting of the incident[2], as the details are not necessary in this discussion.

Suffice to say, the two journalists were at a public meeting where one tried to take a still picture and was arrested. The second tried to use his cell phone to take video of the arrest. Both were detained by police for no real reason at all.

Why did these various police forces imagine they had the power to stop people from recording video in public spaces? By what right did these police imagine they had the power to take these actions? In truth the actions of the police were illicit. They are oppressive of our rights.

Simply put the law has not caught up to the fact that video is so easily at hand for every last citizen. The police are not used to being filmed from every angle and at any time and what they feel is an intrusion into their lives is something they aren’t used to at all.

But here is the interesting thing. The police feel that they have the right to film us at every turn, now don’t they? They film us from the cars, they film us from the tops of poles at stop lights, they film us from street corners, they film us inside buildings. Yet when we return the favor, why suddenly they are all upset about it! How is it logical that police have some expectation of privacy in public when the rest of us don’t? This smacks of an un-American double standard.

Still the law has not firmly sided with the right of the citizens to film anyone in public, just like the cops do. In fact, the law is sort of silent in most corners of the nation. Not enough precedent has been set in the courts to make it clear to all of us.

So, until the courts have their say, policemen everywhere will be violating the rights of the citizenry to film in public, just like the cops do.

  1. this cop got incensed and arrested her anyway:|topnews|text|Home
  2. Robert Johnson’s recounting of the incident:

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