First Amendment Right To Photograph Police

And here’s the big holding that photographers who are not members of the press should pay specific attention to:

The First Amendment right to gather news is, as the Court has often noted, not one that inures solely to the benefit of the news media; rather, the public’s right of access to information is coextensive with that of the press. (my emphasis)

While this case is a First Circuit Court of Appeals case, the basic tenants of First Amendment case law cited by the court come from Supreme Court cases.  As a result, photographers across the nation should feel a little better that this case has reached an appellate court and delivered this result.

Hopefully, this case will reach the desk of police chiefs across the US and will cause their departments to develop policies and training that acknowledges the fundamental right of any person to photograph or record police activity.

Listen up citizen, a photographer is not a terrorist, and violating a photographer’s rights might land you in court, a lawsuit, or in jail. So pay attention.

It started before the 9/11 tragedy, but has really bloomed in it’s aftermath.  I’m talking about the harassment of photographers pursuing their craft, or hobby.  All over the nation photographers are being bullied, told they may not take pictures, and it has gone so far that people are calling the police if they see someone out taking pictures.  Photographers are being physically accosted.  Photographers are being arrested without cause.

Read more:



Taking photographs and video of things that are plainly visible in public spaces is a constitutional right — and that includes the outside of federal buildings, as well as transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties.

However, there is a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs or video in public places, and harassing, detaining and arresting those who fail to comply. The ACLU, photographer’s groups, and others have been complaining about such incidents for years — and consistently winning in court. Yet, a continuing stream of incidents of illegal harassment of photographers and videographers makes it clear that the problem is not going away. In the spring of 2011 alone, the list of incidents included these cases:( check link below)

Many of those involved in these incidents appear to be activists who know their rights and are willing to stand up for them. But not everyone is able to stand up to police officers when harassed; we don’t know how many other Americans comply with baseless orders to stop photographing or recording because they are uncertain of their rights or too afraid to stand up for them.

There was some good news recently concerning the civil rights of photographers. It happened in Maryland where a Judge dismissed charges against a photographer who shot a video of police and posted it on YouTube.

The judge stated “Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public. When we exercise that power in public fora, we should not expect our actions to be shielded from public observation.”







  1. While some AA groups are certainly better than others, one group here in philly has a huge number of people dying of overdoses and out-and-out successful suicides. Yesterday I was vehemently, verbally accosted by three members just for stating that out of 18 board members only 9 bothered to show up at their secretive monthly board meeting.
    2people jumped to their death in front of elevated trains. Sponsors are not licensed in the Commonwealth of provide counseling. If you express an opinion that is not shared by the majority of the group, called “the group conscience” you are severely sanctioned. Verbally assaulted and your character assassinated. They spread rumors assuring each other that I relapsed and was smoking crack. It’s balderdash. Out and out slander. This group is vicious. GNEAA. and should be avoided. Cultists

  2. Charles Manson listened to Rock n’ Roll, hence, Rock n’ Roll entices people to send their family out to kill people. Sounds like your logic to me. Actually, I agree with what you are saying. There are a lot of 12 step groups that have become cultish except when it comes to money. To many members think that being clean and sober automatically makes them highly evolved spiritual beings, even moe so thatn people that had enough sense not to try that first drink, toke, sniff, snort, shot, etc. A lot of NA’s forget about the times they dropped the dime to keep themselves out of the clutches of Bubba if they went to prison. And how come the majority of NA’s brag so much about how much of a big shot drug dealer they were? Or do they consider the time they sold a joint being a big time gangster?

  3. I’ve heard a lot of good, and a lot of garbage about recording the police doing their jobs. Wiretapping laws have been used in the past in Florida to limit or prosecute an individual for recording a police officer conducting his duties, and in some cases, it has been determined (by the police, not the courts) that while you can FILM a cop, you cannot record audio of the same incident. This always made me wonder if a lip-reader would be arrested if they watched the tape.

    But harassment by police for recording is rampant and you can see some very dramatic confrontations with police on youtube including one
    encounter where an undercover officer stopped a motorcycle at gunpoint – and later arrested him for recording the assault. A lady was recently arrested in her front yard for filming police, and these are not isolated incidents. Even among the firearms forums such as it is a hot topic over recording stops by police and the felonies you could face by doing so.

    Baltimore Maryland was one place where a camera would equal jail, and today the Department of Justice put a stop to these kinds of abuses when they issued a letter stating clearly that recording police is only limited by time/place restrictions that are common to free speech. In other words, you have a right to film in any location you have a legal right to be. Sidewalks, police stations, court houses, anywhere that you can legally visit, you can legally record.
    The DoJ states, “A person may record public police activity unless the person engages in actions that jeopardize the safety of the officer, the suspect, or others in the vicinity, violate the law, or incite others to violate the law…. Courts have held that speech is not protected by the First Amendment if it amounts to actual obstruction of a police officer’s investigation – for example, by tampering with a witness or persistently engaging an officer who is in the midst of his or her duties.”

    To further clarify, they state, “However, an individual’s recording of police activity from a safe distance without any attendant action intended to obstruct the activity or threaten the safety of others does not amount to interference. Nor does an individual’s conduct amount to interference if he or she expresses criticism of the police or the police activity being observed…. (“[T]he First Amendment protects a significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers.”)… (“Surely, one is not to be punished for nonprovocatively voicing his objection to what he obviously felt was a highly questionable detention by a police officer.”) Even foul expressions of disapproval towards police officers are protected under the First Amendment.”

    The police cannot just take your camera without a warrant, and cannot delete an image from the camera without a hearing concerning the image. ” …Policies should prohibit officers from destroying recording devices or cameras and deleting recordings or photographs under any circumstances. In addition to violating the First Amendment, police officers violate the core requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process clause when they irrevocably deprived individuals of their recordings without first providing notice and an opportunity to object.”

    You can find a copy of the letter here…
    re_photography_5_14_2012_0.pdf and it’s pretty good reading.

  4. Yes,committing on A.A, there is nothing wrong with A.A. or N.A., meetings or recovery the 12 step program is great when you want it you have to work it to get it. Im in Branson, Mo & I was in the program 4 almost 11yrs & I know John Kaisz an have 4 almost 8-9 yrs, Somthing had to have snap in the man. The man on DEATH row is not the same man that i know and had gotten help by him when i needed it. I Beleave in an Eye 4 an Eye, and Im very sadden an sorry 4 the the people invalved,my heart gose out to everyone, But John is on trail not A.A-N.A, So Please leave it out. And anyone needed help A.A-N.A, our hand is always there an open, please get the help you may need, Thank you Vern H.- Branson, Mo

    • I disagree. The point is what a long time member of AA was capable of. Also his life was asked to be saved because of his 20 years in AA. The prison thought he could help others in AA with his experience. This is outragious! John Kaisz is supposed to be a role model for prisoners and to teach the AA message? This man who had been a sponsor, went onto murder his own sister, a police officer and others in cold blood. There are many mentally unstable within AA and NA that need professional counseling, not AA. Many AA members encourage other members to go off their meds and not to go to therapy. They think AA/NA is all people need. AA should not be left out of this, and should figure prominently to show the world how Alcoholics Anonymous failed this man. It shows that AA is includes very dangerous, mentally unstable members and sexual offenders. In fact John Kaisz who has been sentenced to death had also been convicted of molesting his niece. He was still going to AA meetings after that conviction as well.

      • The point is what a long time member of AA was capable of? This is not a matter of AA. Many people who are just regular, everyday folks are capable of some very heinous crimes and activities. I have been a member of a different fellowship for 17 years and 99.9 % of the people who ‘stick and stay’ go on to lead responsible and productive lives. Compare that to society in general and you will find that the numbers are much higher for so-called ‘normal’ people than those in recovery,

        • Interesting, you are going to compare ” just regular, everyday folks” to court mandated violent felons and sexual predators? The majority of crimes are committed by those that have already been arrested in the past. The majority of people in AA/NA these days are court mandates for all kinds of crimes including rape and murder. I do not think you would consider these “regular, everyday folks”. Maybe in your world, not mine! AA is known to have a 5% rate of success. Some even have it less. When you see people arrested over and over and over again, Many continue to be mandated back to AA and NA meetings! This makes for very dangerous meetings. I certainly dispute your stats! Sounds like wishful thinking.

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