Glik v. Boston: Court Affirms Right to Record Police Actions in Public

Jayel Aheram
Aug 30, 2011 at 2:47 PM

In a huge victory for free speech, transparency, and the public at large, the First Circuit Panel affirms the right of vigilant citizens to videotape police actions carrying out their duties in public:

The First Amendment issue here is, as the parties frame it, fairly narrow: is there a constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public? Basic First Amendment principles, along with case law from this and other circuits, answer that question unambiguously in the affirmative....

As the Supreme Court has observed, “the First Amendment goes beyond protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.” ....

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.

Not only does Simon Glik v. City of Boston (PDF link) establish that police officers are violating Americans’ First Amendment rights when they prevent, prohibit, or confiscate cameras of vigilant citizens recording the police actions, but as Cato’s David Rittgers have noted, might also strike at the heart of Massachusetts’ police use of felony wiretapping laws to punish citizens. The only issue that Rittgers neglected to point out is that Glik v. Boston seems to only apply to police actions in public.

Regardless, this sets a powerful precedent that will stymie the police state and hinder its attempts to cover up their public crimes against the unarmed citizenry they purport to serve and defend. The next step then is to extend First Amendment protections to all recording of police crimes: whether it be committed in the full sight of the public or away from its prying eyes.

Thank you for this post. This issue will come up again and we must draw a line in the sand.

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This is great! Hopefully new states will challenge their laws as well.

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With respect, Dave Rittgers (my former boss) is a legal policy analyst at Cato, not Reason.

I offer Part I of my analysis here.

The "in public" piece is important because the alleged interest in the Massachusetts law is privacy. There's a much smaller expectation of privacy in public than in private.

I'm not sure whether even I would support an absolute right to record police wherever. There are too many dangerous collateral effects. Would that require police to grant access to jails? Would that prohibit them from arresting me for tresspassing while I record them in a stranger's home? I frame this issue as where a person is lawfully present, the First Amendment ensures a right to record police conduct in a safe manner. Glik is a more narrow holding, but the facts of the case were more narrow as well.

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Thanks for catching that error and proving this additional info!

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