Speed Reads

First Amendment

Is it illegal to film the cops now?

In the first federal case in which photographing or filming cops was not deemed protected by the First Amendment, a Pennsylvania district court judge ruled against two people who were arrested while attempting to record police activity. One of the two plaintiffs took a photo of a group of officers outside a house party, and the other filmed cops arresting fracking protesters.

Judge Mark Kearney determined that because they were documenting cops "without any challenge or criticism," the plaintiffs were not engaging in "expressive conduct" and thus do not receive First Amendment protection. If the plaintiff at the protest had yelled some anti-police expletive while filming the demonstrators' arrest, Kearney's argument suggests, that would have put her into a protected category that her silence denies her.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) plans to challenge the ruling, because, "Without a protected right to film officers, the ability of the public to monitor police activity is really reduced." But in the meantime, if you're going to film the police, be sure to say some protest slogans while you're at it.