Your Phone is a First Amendment Device: Police, Citizens and the Right to Record
The New York Times reports that in the wake of the Times Square shooting the NYPD confiscated one bystander’s phone and video footage, and told him not to talk to the media.
"Julian Miller, 22, who was visiting New York from Boston, said the police confiscated his phone after he recorded video of the confrontation. He said in an interview that he followed the pursuit from Times Square to 37th Street and Seventh Avenue, his phone recording as he ran to keep up. He said a police detective pulled him aside after the shooting and asked to see his phone and the video.
“His eyes got big when he saw the video,” Mr. Miller said, adding that he had captured the shooting on video. “He went to go show his boss, and then they took my phone away.” He said the officer told him not to speak with the news media.”
To Mr. Miller’s credit, after this happened he went to the New York Times to talk to someone about the experience.
Why confiscate the phone? The article doesn’t say whether police sought to have the footage as evidence or to cover up some aspect of the shooting. In either case, it may not matter. A huge number of other people had their phones out and were recording and snapping pictures as the event unfolded. In this post on the New York Time’s City Room blog you can see two other videos that show groups of people following behind police with their cell phone held aloft.
In fact, one of the journalists behind the post, Aaron Edwards, tweeted, “Interesting tidbit I gathered from reporting on #TimesSquare shooting: people I spoke to were more inclined to take video than to run away.” This is a key reason that courts have asserted time and again that the newsgathering protections of the First Amendment apply to all people, and do not turn on press credentials. Even more specific to this case are recent court decisions and statements from the Justice Department that make clear all people have a right to record police in public places.
We don’t have all the details on this case, or why Mr. Miller’s footage was confiscated. But the NYPD’s recent history with photographers and journalists raises important questions about how this case was handled.
[SOURCE: NYT “Police Shoot Man in Midtown, and Tourists Reach for Cameras." The photograph was taken by a trourist, Lincoln Rocha, who provided it to the New York Times.]