U.S. First Circuit Holds First Amendment Protects Right to Make Video Recordings of Police

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that police violated an individual’s constitutional rights by arresting him for using his cell phone’s digital video camera to film several police officers arresting a young man. Glik v. Cunniffe, No. 10-1764 (1st Cir. Aug. 26, 2011).The impromptu cameraman, Simon Glik, was initially charged with violating the Massachusetts’s wiretap statute and two other state-law offenses. However, those charges were eventually dropped. Glik brought an action against the police officers, claiming that his arrest for filming the officers constituted a violation of his rights under the First and Fourth Amendments. The defendants moved to dismiss the action on the ground that they had qualified immunity. The U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts denied that motion, and the defendants appealed to the First Circuit.

On appeal, the First Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the First Amendment’s prohibition on government action “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” “encompasses a range of conduct related to the gathering and dissemination of information.” The court declared that “[g]athering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting the free discussion of governmental affairs.” Accordingly, the court concluded that “a citizen’s right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.”

 

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