The right to film police in the performance of their public duties in a public space is a “basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment,” a federal appellate court has ruled, marking a major victory in a time when arrests for such activities have been on the rise, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston ruled that three Boston police officers are not immune from liability for arresting a man who, believing the officers were using excessive force to arrest a young man on the Boston Common, recorded the October 2007 scene on his cell phone.
The officers arrested the spectator, Simon Glik, confiscated his cell phone and a computer flash drive and charged him with violation of the Massachusetts wiretap statute, which requires the consent of all parties to record a conversation. The state Supreme Court has interpreted the statute to criminalize only secret recordings made without such consent. Because the officers admitted that Glik used his cell phone openly and in plain view to obtain the video and audio recording, the Boston Municipal Court dismissed the wiretap charge against him. Glik filed a civil rights action against the officers and the city for alleged violations of his First and Fourth Amendment rights.