During the years after 9/11, it was common for police to stop journalists or activists photographing a chemical plant or port facility and tell them it was illegal. It wasn't. Wise journalists — even if they were doing a story on chemical safety — usually stated their rights before obeying police orders. Now a new Justice Department statement bolsters the argument that police can not merely make up rules about press access on a whim.
In a May 14, 2012 letter to the Baltimore Police Department, the Justice Department said that individuals have a First Amendment right to record police officers in the public performance of their duties. It also said police can not seize or destroy such recordings without a warrant and due process. The story was reported originally by Wired.
The Justice Department opinion gains extra significance because of the increasing prevalence of cell phones that can record photos, sound, and video.
- "Justice Dept.: Individuals Have Right To Record Police Activity,"  First Amendment Center, May 17, 2012.
- Previous Story: SEJ WatchDog of October 20, 2010.