There’s been a misconception in the media lately about it being illegal to videotape cops in three states; Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois.
That’s not exactly true.
In Massachusetts, it is illegal to secretly record anybody without their consent, but there is no law against openly videotaping anybody in public with or without their consent, including cops. In fact, charges have been dropped against people who have been arrested for videotaping cops in public in Massachusetts.
In Maryland, state police and a certain prosecutor treat it as if it is illegal but another state attorney as well as the attorney general disagree that it is illegal to videotape cops in public. The debate should be settled entirely by the time Anthony Graber goes to trial on October 12. Also, the ACLU, which is backing Graber in this case, is asking the law to be further clarified.
That leaves us with Illinois where Radley Balko reported that it is illegal to audio record cops, even if they happen to be in public with no expectation of privacy.
Fortunately, the ACLU is now trying to change this law after filing a federal lawsuit in Chicago Wednesday to challenge the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, according to the Chicago Tribune:
Unfortunately, the article also builds on the misconception that it is illegal to record cops in public in other states.
Illinois is one of only a few states, including Massachusetts and Oregon, where it is illegal to record audio of conversations that take place in public settings without the permission of everyone involved.
In Oregon, it is not illegal to record conversations that take place in public settings because they would not have an expectation of privacy. This issue was clarified in a memo from the Beaverton City Attorney last month that was distributed to police departments, which didn’t stop a certain police chief to vow continuing arresting people videotaping officers in public.
The ACLU lawsuit mentions six Illinois residents who have faced felony charges for recording cops in public, including Charles Drew, a street arrest who is still awaiting trial for having recorded police who were shaking him down for trying to sell art without a permit.
Coincidentally, I received an email yesterday from Jeremy Lindsey who was investigated by Granite City Police Chief Rich Miller for posting videos of cops he shot in public. Lindsey ended up removing the audio from two videos in order to comply with the law.
This is what the chief told him in an email.
It is illegal to record a persons conversation without permission. In fact we are reviewing your post yesterday of Officer Klump to see if you violated he law. I am aware you have altered it today. I have the Original post. Also when at a call for service you should refrain from interfering or you are subject to arrest for obstructing. Chief Miller
While it is a step in the right direction for the ACLU to attempt to change state laws in compliance with common sense First Amendment laws, we need to go a step further and pass a national law that specifically allows citizens to videotape cops in public as long as they are not interfering.
The resolution introduced by Democratic Congressman Ed Towns last month is the first step in doing this. The National Press Photographers Association, which got involved with our Metrorail escapade, is also asking Towns to change his resolution to a Congressional Bill.
According to last month’s NPPA press release:
Despite consistent court rulings protecting the First Amendment rights of both citizens and the media to take photographs in public places, and despite many law enforcement agencies spelling it out in their official policies, the officer on the street either doesn’t get the word or decides to act on his own in the name of “security” or “terrorism laws,” often citing rules that don’t exist and exerting authority that’s non-existent. And recently in some states police have started citing old wiretapping laws that have been on the books for decades as their excuse for ordering photographers to cease videotaping officers as they’re doing their jobs in public, either during traffic stops or street arrests or while interfering with photographers who are breaking no rules and who are posing no threats to safety.
“It is extremely disturbing that some states have misrepresented the intent of wiretapping laws and modified them to affect news photographers and everyday people who are photographing or videotaping police actions in a public place,” NPPA president Bob Carey wrote to Rep. Towns today.
“We believe that such misuse of these state laws are unconstitutional and need to be addressed at both the state and national levels. NPPA has been dealing with police interference with visual journalists in public places for years. We are pleased that your Resolution is currently before the Judiciary Committee and we stand ready to testify if needed.”