Recording police with your smartphone is a Constitutional right, says DoJ

Police Arrest Recording

In a win for technology, citizen journalism, and our Constitutional rights, the U.S. Department of Justice has issued a letter to the Baltimore City Police Department reconfirming that photographing, video- and audio-recording on-duty police officers is a Constitutional right protected by the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

“Because recording police officers in the public discharge of their duties is protected by the First Amendment, policies should prohibit interference with recording of police activities except in narrowly circumscribed situations,” reads the DoJ’s letter (pdf). “More particularly, policies should instruct officers that, except under limited circumstances, officers must not search or seize a camera or recording device without a warrant. In addition, policies should prohibit more subtle actions that may nonetheless infringe upon individuals’ First Amendment rights. Officers should be advised not to threaten, intimidate, or otherwise discourage an individual from recording police officer enforcement activities or intentionally block or obstruct cameras or recording devices.”

The letter, which was brought to our attention via photojournalist Carlos Miller of PixIQ (who says in his bio that he’s been arrested three times for recording police), comes in response to a lawsuit brought forth by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Christopher Sharp, against the BPD, whose officers confiscated Sharp’s cellphone and deleted a video of police arresting his friend at the 2010 Preakness Stakes horse race.

After the DoJ first took interest in the lawsuit earlier this year, the BPD issued a seven-page General Order to officers stating that citizens have the “absolute right” to record police doing their duties, provided the recording does not violate any other laws, like obstruction of justice. Rather than stick to these principles, however, BPD simply adopted a broader interpretation of the law, which led to further crackdowns on recording. The DoJ’s most recent letter, issued on May 14, says that the BPD’s order does not go far enough to protect the rights of citizens.

The DoJ’s letter, written by Jonathan Smith, chief of the special litigation section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, also reconfirms that members of the press and other private citizens share the same right to record police, and that displaying press credentials should not be a prerequisite for recording police officers.

“This principal is particularly important in the current age where widespread access to recording devices and online media have provided private individuals with the capacity to gather and disseminate newsworthy information with an ease that rivals that of the traditional news media,” writes Smith.

So for those of you wondering whether or not you should turn on your smartphone’s video camera when you see the police doing something you think isn’t right, feel free to hit the “record” button — you clearly have the right to do so. Just make sure to stay out of the officers’ way, or you might not have a leg to stand on (legally speaking, of course).

Image via homeros/Shutterstock

Social Media

Build a wish list and shop videos with Instagram’s latest shopping update

Eyeing a product on Instagram? Now there are more ways to shop from the social network. Instagram just rolled out options to save products in a collection as users can also now shop from videos.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

Stay inside this fall with the best shows on Hulu, including 'Castle Rock'

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we've put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in November, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to ‘Dracula’

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Photography

See the National Forests like never before in these awe-inspiring drone videos

What's the difference between a National Park and a National Forest? Drones. With no ban on drones in National Forests -- at least, not yet -- filmmakers have a way to capture the immensity of these locations with stunning results.
Product Review

With outstanding image quality, the ‘basic’ Sony A7 III excels in every way

Replacing the four-year-old A7 II as the new entry-level model in Sony's full-frame line, the A7 III is an impressively capable camera that gives more expensive models a run for their money.
Social Media

Addicted to Instagram? Its new ‘activity dashboard’ is here to help

Ever get that nagging feeling you're spending too much time on Instagram? Well, a new "activity dashboard" has a bunch of features designed to help you better control how you use the addictive photo-sharing app.
Photography

Photography news: Best spot for fall photos, new firmware from Fuji and Nikon

Where's the best spot to take fall photos? Michigan, according to social media and a Nikon contest. The results and more in this week's photography news, including significant firmware updates for the Fujifilm X-T3, X-H1, and GFX 50S.
Mobile

How to take great photos with the Pixel 3, the best camera phone around

You’ve scored yourself a new Google Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL, and you want to take advantage of that incredible camera. We’ve got everything you need to know right here about how to snap the best photos with your Pixel 3.
Emerging Tech

DJI Mavic 2 Pro vs Mavic 2 Zoom: What’s the real difference?

DJI's Mavic 2 series drones are ready to fly -- but which one is right for you? The Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom are nearly identical save for their cameras. Here's what you need to know about these powerful new UAVs.
Product Review

Airselfie 2 may as well be a GoPro stapled to a drunk hummingbird

On paper, the Airselfie 2 is marketed as flying photographer that fits in your pocket and snaps selfies from the sky. Unfortunately it’s more like a HandiCam controlled by a swarm of intoxicated bumblebees
Product Review

DJI has always been the king of drones, and the new Mavics are almost perfect

After flying both the Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom for over a week, we’re convinced that these are two of the best drones that DJI has ever made.