Taking photographs and video of things that are plainly visible in public spaces is a constitutional right—and that includes transportation facilities, the outside of federal buildings, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties.
Unfortunately, law enforcement officers have been known to ask people to stop taking photographs of public places. Those who fail to comply have sometimes been harassed, detained, and arrested. Other people have ended up in FBI databases for taking innocuous photographs of public places.
The right of citizens to record the police is a critical check and balance. It creates an independent record of what took place in a particular incident, one that is free from accusations of bias, lying, or faulty memory. It is no accident that some of the most high-profile cases of police misconduct have involved video and audio records.
Relatedly, artistic expression should never be chilled out of fear of unwarranted police scrutiny. No one should ever find an FBI agent on their doorstep just because they photographed public art.
Through litigation, public education, and other forms of advocacy, the ACLU has defended the rights of photographers and all camera-wielding individuals to document freely.
- News/Press ReleaseJanuary 19, 2018
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- News/Press ReleaseMarch 30, 2016