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Is it Legal to Photograph or Videotape Police?

Jay Stanley,
Senior Policy Analyst,
ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
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September 7, 2011

Since 9/11, a disturbing pattern of innocent individuals being harassed by the police for taking still and video photographs in public places has emerged across the country.

The ACLU, photographers’ groups, and others have been complaining about such incidents for years — and we have been consistently winning in court. Recently, an appeals court ruled, on behalf of an ACLU client, that Americans have a First Amendment right to videotape the police making an arrest in a public park.

Yet, a continuing stream of these incidents (often driven by police who have been fed “nonsense” about links between photography and terrorism) makes it clear that the problem is not going away. New examples continue to be reported weekly, and sometimes daily, on web sites such as Photography is Not a Crime.

> A Guide to Photographers’ Rights

> Article: Law Enforcement Harrassment of Photographers

> Learn More: Filming and Photographing Police

Taking still and video photographs 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.

Of course, as with everything there are some narrow exceptions and limits. That’s why we have created a new web resource on photographers’ rights, including a “Know Your Rights” page. Everyone — photographers and police — should be clear on what rights we have in America when engaging in photography in public spaces.

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