This article contains some writing, compilation, and research by jan, with references to sources such as the Boston Globe, information compiled by Citizen Media Law Project, and investigative phone calls by John Del Santo.
CAN WE RECORD COPS?
The question of "CAN WE RECORD COPS?" is a simple question. There should be a simple answer of yes or no. These are public servants receiving public funding and they are in public doing their public job. They are answerable to the public, after all. Aren't they?
In general, the answer "should" be a simple yes, but in reality, the various states have different laws which you should check into before heading out onto the road with a recorder in your vest pocket to try to get a helmet ticket in a reverse entrapment sting like you see B.O.L.T. and other civil libertarian special forces operatives doing.
Audio and video recordings in public are permitted in most states. However, some people have been arrested for recording police in states such as MA and PA which have laws that prohibit recording without dual consent, even in public...and even if it is a so-called public servant.
As an example, Massachusetts has a dual-consent law about audio recording. Police have arrested people from time to time, charging them with illegal electronic surveillance, and with no prior warning. The State "punishes citizen watchdogs and allows police officers to conceal possible misconduct behind a "cloak of privacy". .. Citizens have a particularly important role to play when the official conduct at issue is that of the police". These are not my words. These are the words of Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, commenting on the persecution and conviction of Michael Hyde, a musician that was sick of constant police harassment and decided to begin carrying a recording device with him.
In a more recent case regarding an incident in October, 2007, a Boston lawyer saw cops using what appeared to be excessive force, whipped out his cell phone, and started recording. Since the cell phone was recording audio as well as video, he was handcuffed and charged with illegal electronic surveillance. Check the Massachusetts General Laws for yourself, see Title 1 Chapter 272: Section 99. Interception of wire and oral communications.
In Pennsylvania, there have also been recent episodes of police arresting people who record them even though they are in public, supposedly doing public service, in conditions which they should not have a "reasonable expectation of privacy". Here is some information about some other states. If you have information about your state, please add your comments.
State Laws about Recording - an excellent source:
While conducting research for this, I found excellent advice about recording of cops at Citizen Media Law Project.
Here is a paragraph from the Citizen Media Law Project...
Each state has its own wiretapping statute and its own rule on how many parties need to consent to the recording of a phone call or conversation in order to make it lawful. State law also varies on whether or not (and under what circumstances) you are permitted to use recording devices in public meetings and court hearings.
There is also a list of states, so you can find state-specific information on recording laws.
Phone Calls and Research by John Del Santo
John Del Santo from San Diego has done some research into this topic, including phone calls to California and federal authorities.
DISCLAIMER and FIRST AMENDMENT NOTICE: This is a political communication exercising our Freedom of Speech as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. This missive may be the opinion of the writer, and the sender does not guarantee the accuracy of any forwarded material.
Recently there were conversations bouncing backing forth regarding “Are you allowed to take photos or videos of a policeman” ? Here is what I have been able to find so far.
San Diego Police Dept. No one could remember having seen anything in print prohibiting this.
California Vehicle Code I could not find anything in the CVC prohibiting this.
California Penal Code I was unable to find anything prohibiting taking photos of a Law Enforcement Officer (L.E.O).
California Highway Patrol, Sacramento The officer that I spoke to said that as far as he knows, an officer on the street has "no reasonable expectation of privacy" regarding having their photo taken. He suggested that I might check with Homeland Security.
Homeland Security, Washington DC Policy Dept , said that they could not find any rule in their book that prohibits taking photos or videos of police, but gave me another number for the U.S. Secret Service.
U.S. Secret Service, San Diego A very knowledgeable sounding Agent said that there is no law ( with some minor variations ) that would prohibit me from taking photos or videos of a L.E.O. He said that any variations would be something like taking the photos of an officer who is working undercover , taking a photo of an officer and then posting it on the internet with crosshairs on the cops forehead, taking a photo of a cop as he is entering his home, showing the home address, Taking his or her photo for the photographers sexual gratification, using the photograph for reasons that would harm the officer or their family, etc.
United Kingdom In the U.K. there are several laws prohibiting taking photos of police officers (or making fun of their hats.)
Philadelphia, PA A man was standing in his front yard, saw some action on the street involving police action, took out his cell phone, and took a photo A policeman entered his yard, took away the camera, told the man that there was a “new law” against using a cel-phone to take a L.E.O.’s picture, handcuffed the man and took him to the police station. The American Civil Liberties Union defended the man on the grounds that there is no such law prohibiting the man’s action because the man took pictures “of activities that are clearly visible on the street” The man was released without charge.
jan says, "Thanks for making all those phone calls John. I hope you had the recorder going!"