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Taking Video of Police

With the advent of smartphones, just about anyone has the ability to photograph and record video of police officers performing their jobs. But, perhaps not surprisingly, this behavior is not popular with the authorities. When are you within your rights to take video of the police?

When can you take video of the police?

As the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) explains in its Guide to Your Rights for Public Photography in Florida, if you are legally present in a public space, then you have the constitutionally protected right to photograph or record video of anything in plain view. Consequently, if you are filming the police interacting with members of the public in a public space, the police have no legal authority to order you to stop. Nor, according to the ACLU and a recent Atlantic.com article, can officers confiscate your camera or phone, or demand to see what you’ve recorded. In fact, as this blog has already noted, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that police cannot search your cell phone without a warrant.

Remember, however, that if you are in a private space, the property owner can establish rules that forbid you from taking pictures or video, and can have you arrested for trespassing if you break those rules. The fact that you may be exercising your right to take pictures does not excuse you from the consequences of breaking other laws.

When can you not take video of the police?

The ACLU further explains that you cannot continue to take video if your actions actually interfere with legitimate law enforcement operations. In that case, police can order you to stop, although they still are not permitted to destroy your film. And there are additional considerations that arise with video recording that are not present when you are taking still photographs.

A video recording has two aspects to it – visual and audio. The visual component is legally similar to a photograph – if you can see it in a public place, you can photograph or film it. The audio component, however, is more tricky. Audio recordings are subject to Florida’s wiretapping law, which forbids recording any oral communication unless all parties to the communication consent. Consent is not required, however, if the person making the communication has no reasonable expectation of privacy in it. For example, a person giving a public speech or holding a loud conversation in the middle of a public street has no reasonable expectation that his communications will remain private.

But whether a reasonable expectation of privacy exists is a question that is only answered on a case-by-case basis, meaning that you as a citizen cannot make that call in the moment with any certainty. For this reason, the ACLU recommends that you comply with the police if they order you to stop recording audio.

Contact an Orlando civil rights lawyer

If you believe your rights have been violated, contact the experienced civil rights lawyers of The Baez Law Firm for a consultation. With offices in Orlando and Miami, the lawyers of The Baez Law Firm can help no matter what your civil rights claims entail.

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