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The cases below collectively affirm a First Amendment right to record police officers in public, subject to reasonable restrictions. Courts have also affirmed the right to record outside federal buildings. The trend highlights the judiciary's recognition of the importance of transparency and accountability of public officials.

Right to Record

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Turner v. Driver (5th Cir. 2017): The court affirmed that individuals have a right to record the police, acknowledging that this right is not absolute and may be subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.


Am. Civil Liberties Union v. Alvarez (7th Cir. 2012): The Seventh Circuit ruled that a law criminalizing recording of police in public without their consent was unconstitutional.


Glik v. Cunniffe (2011): The First Circuit held that the First Amendment protects the right to openly record police officers carrying out their duties in public.


Smith v. City of Cumming (2000): The Eleventh Circuit recognized a First Amendment right to film government officials in the performance of their duties in a public space.


Fordyce v. City of Seattle (9th Cir. 1995): The Ninth Circuit held that the press has a right to photograph or record outside federal buildings.


Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia (1980): The Supreme Court held that the press and the public have a First Amendment right of access to criminal trials.


Houchins v. KQED, Inc. (1978): The Supreme Court recognized that the press has a First Amendment right to access places traditionally open to the public, even if privately owned.


Q: Is it legal to record police officers in public?

A: Yes, it is generally legal to record police officers performing their duties in public places, as established by court decisions such as Glik v. Cunniffe.


Q: Do I need to inform an officer that I am recording them?

A: This depends on the state law. Some states have "two-party consent" laws requiring you to inform the officer, while others do not. These laws typically refer to audio recording but may be relevant if your video recording also includes audio recording.


Q: What should I do if I'm told to stop recording in public?

A: If you believe you are lawfully recording in public, you can politely state your rights. However, you may wish to comply with law enforcement directives to avoid escalation and seek legal counsel afterward.


Q: Are there areas in public where I cannot record?

A: Yes, restrictions can apply in sensitive areas like military installations, near critical infrastructure, or in places where individuals have an expectation of privacy, such as restrooms or locker rooms.


Q: What does the Department of Homeland Security say about filming federal facilities?

A: The Department of Homeland Security issued policy guidance in 2018 stating that the public has the right to photograph the exterior of federal facilities and certain interior areas. Photography for news purposes is generally allowed in lobbies, foyers, and other public areas as long as the photography does not interfere with security operations, cause a nuisance, or disrupt government services and employees.


Q: Can I record inside a post office?

A: Yes, the USPS explicitly allows photographs for news purposes to be taken in entrances, lobbies, foyers, corridors or auditoriums when used for public meetings except where explicitly prohibited. These rules are spelled out in the USPS’s “Rules and Regulations Governing Conduct on Postal Service Property,” commonly known as Poster 7.


Q: Can a public official legally confiscate my recording device?

A: Public officials generally cannot confiscate your recording device without a warrant or probable cause that it contains evidence of a crime.


Q: What are "time, place, and manner" restrictions?

A: These are legal restrictions that govern when, where, and how you can exercise your First Amendment rights without unreasonably interfering with others' rights or public safety.


Q: If I'm on private property, can I still record?

A: Whether you can record on private property is typically at the discretion of the property owner, and you can be asked to leave or face trespassing charges if you do not have permission.


Q: How does "stop and identify" work when recording an audit?

A: During a First Amendment audit, if police approach and you're in a state with "stop and identify" statutes, you may be legally required to provide identification if there's reasonable suspicion of a crime.


Q: Can I record public officials in a non-public area of a government building?

A: Generally, you cannot record in non-public areas of government buildings without permission, as these areas are not considered public forums.


Q: What is the consequence if I refuse to stop recording when ordered by law enforcement?

A: Refusing to comply with a lawful order can result in charges such as obstruction of justice, disorderly conduct, or other legal consequences.


Q: Can my recordings of public officials be used as evidence in court?

A: Yes, recordings can potentially be used as evidence in court, if they are obtained legally, and their authenticity can be verified.


Q: What can I do if my right to record is violated by a public official?

A: If you believe your rights have been violated, you can file a complaint with the appropriate agency or seek legal counsel to discuss potential civil rights litigation.


Disclaimer: The information provided in these FAQs is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult a licensed attorney.

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