First Amendment Protected: Cell Phone Recordings of Police Are Legal


Filming police officers in public is not an illegal offense, US courts have declared, a decision which has cost the city of Boston $170,000.

When Simon Glik witnessed on-duty officers using what he believed to be excessive force while arresting a man in Boston Commons in 2007, he took out his cell phone to record the incident. The officers then retaliated against Glik by arresting him on charges of illegal wiretapping.

In August of 2011, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the First Amendment protects a citizen’s right to openly record police in public places. The judges dismissed the charges of violating wiretap laws, disturbing the peace and aiding in the escape of a prisoner. (To be clear: the man who Glik filmed being arrested did not escape.) In addition to finding the case in violation of the First Amendment, the judges also cited a breach of the Fourth Amendment for a false arrest.

Evidently, the police targeted the wrong man. Glik, who is a criminal defense attorney, knew his rights were violated, and brought a civil rights suit against the city of Boston to the U.S. District Court. Now the Court has awarded Glik $170,000, and helped to establish a precedent on an issue that will increasingly become relevant, particularly as technology advances and a growing number of civilians have easy access to recording devices on their phones.

Similar cases of civilians being arrested for recording police officers are springing up everywhere, including Minnesota, Richmond, Baltimore and Seattle. Participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement have been especially resourceful in using new technologies to record perceived abuses of police power and view it as one of their best lines of defense.

As a result, citizens with cameras allege that the police are targeting them. Miami resident Carlos Miller found himself in similar trouble after recording police. “If you’re going to arrest me for doing nothing, fair enough, that’s your stupidity,” Miller says. “But to delete my images, that shows that they were afraid of my footage getting out. That’s totally illegal.”

An influx of incidents like these is the main reason that Reporters Without Borders recently dropped the United States down 27 notches in its annual Press Freedom Index.

As for the Boston cast specifically, the Internal Affairs Division has disciplined the officers for the unlawful arrest of Glik. Elaine Driscoll, a spokesperson for the Boston Police Department, assures that the force is addressing this issue to prevent similar incidents. According to Driscoll, the force is revising police academy curriculum and holding training sessions for existing officers to prevent further misunderstanding of wiretap laws.


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Photo Credit: A Gude


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

if they have nothing to hide, recordings won't be a problem. It may help keep them in line. some people in positions of power get a little out of hand

Sarah M.
Sarah M5 years ago

Yes! We are watching you!

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal5 years ago works.

Stanley Balgobin
Stanley R5 years ago

Filming Cops in their actions of brutality is not illegal. If you break the law, you are subject to the same penalties as any lawbreaker, cop or not. Except in Florida.

Diana S.
Diana S5 years ago

(comment cont. from below) support, respect and cooperation, they will own up to it, and do what it takes to make it right. And since, like the rest of us, cops ARE human, we all know it will help them to do right to begin with to know that -- anytime, anywhere -- a camera may catch them doing wrong. : )

Diana S.
Diana S5 years ago

Cops are only human, and have jobs that range at any given time from mind-numbingly boring, to exciting and gratifying, to thankless, to horrifying, to life-threatening. I can understand their tendency to continue to "have each other's backs" to the point of automatically supporting a cop's questionable actions. I can understand why they view us, their fellow citizens, with a very cynical eye, and sometimes treat the public as "the enemy." But understanding the reasons behind disfunction and abusive of power is not the same thing as believing it can be justified. There is no justification for it. The causes need to be explored and understood, and solutions need to be found. And cops need to accept that they, as a group, have earned not only our gratitude for all the good they do and risks they take, but our distrust and anger for all the bad things they have done. Those bad things may not outweigh the good, but sadly, they do taint them, and leave us feeling that every encounter with the police is a ticket to an ugly lottery. Will we win a respectful, lawful, helpful, compassionate, unbiased encounter with the police? Will we win an encounter with the police that will leave us dazed, terrified, angry, injured, humiliated, or unjustly jailed? Or will we end up dead, like poor Otto Zehm (from a police encounter in Spokane, WA) and many others? Police need our support, respect and cooperation. We need to know that when they behave in ways that are undeserving of that

Gloria H.
Gloria H5 years ago

Maybe they would feel more secure if they wore KKK sheets, and go incognito?

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

Great decision !!!

That's one for the people. :)

Beth Davis
Beth D5 years ago

Well apparently its legal in my state and that's just wrong. You know what they have to hide, they are abusive, they know it too. They do not care, the police have become so militarized, they are in a mindset that, although they are the law, they are ABOVE the law. This is how they were 'trained' during the civil rights movement and they won't be stopped now. However, the folks out there who are getting video...great...spread it all around so the more we expose them, they will have to adjust. Could take decades..

Richard T.
Richard T5 years ago

Thank you!