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Justice Department weighs in: you can record police actions, and they should not try to erase content from your cell phone

Posted: , by Daniel P.

Justice Department weighs in: you can record police actions, and they should not try to erase content from your cell phone
The Obama administration, through the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, has weighed in on a lawsuit raised by one Christopher Sharp, about the right of law enforcement officers to access and destroy personal content on your phone without a warrant or a trial.

The plaintiff went to watch a horse race in a bar, which went a bit awry, and he claims the police used force on his friend, before arresting her, while he was trying to film the incident. Officers then demanded the phone to use the video as evidence, and he reluctantly gave it to them. Upon return several minutes after, the video was gone from his smartphone, along with a lot of his personal footage, including moments with his son that he claims held "sentimental value".

During the trial, the municipality said that it provided some formal training to officers after the incident, that people have the right to record police actions, and also sent an email to all officers advising that, which should be deemed sufficient to shut the case. Mr Sharp, however, claims that his First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights have been violated in the case, and the Obama administration seems to agree. Here's what we got from their "Statement of Interest of the United States", that was filed with the Maryland court involved:

This litigation presents constitutional questions of great moment in this digital age: whether private citizens have a First Amendment right to record police officers in the public discharge of their duties, and whether officers violate citizens’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they seize and destroy such recordings without a warrant or due process. The United States urges this Court to answer both of those questions in the affirmative. The right to record police officers while performing duties in a public place, as well as the right to be protected from the warrantless seizure and destruction of those recordings, are not only required by the Constitution. They are consistent with our fundamental notions of liberty, promote the accountability of our governmental officers, and instill public confidence in the police officers who serve us daily...

Although defendants have taken some remedial actions, these measures do not adequately ensure that violation will not recur. While the city's new training materials acknowledge that it's legal to record the actions of the police, they do not explicitly acknowledge that private citizens' right to record the police derives from the First Amendment, nor do they provide clear and effective guidance to officers about the important First Amendment principle involved.

This comes hot on the heels of many controversial rulings on whether or not law enforcement has the right to snoop or dispose with content on your phone, with California governor Jerry Brown vetoing an anti-snooping bill not long ago.

All those police brutality videos on YouTube should feel safe now. One incident in Miami last summer became particularly notorious since law enforcement seized phones from people filming, and destroyed some, then denied it, but one witness managed to hide the microSD card of his HTC phone, and later sold the footage to CNN, proving the officers' word wrong.

source: DoJ via Arstechnica & Reason


16 Comments
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posted on 12 Jan 2012, 17:15 7

1. theBankRobber (Posts: 645; Member since: 22 Sep 2011)


This is great news, there are some cops who think they are god like and can use extreme force and get away with it. Let the war of good cop bad cop begin

posted on 12 Jan 2012, 17:30 3

2. Zayuh24 (Posts: 148; Member since: 21 Nov 2011)


Never liked police, never will. I'm glad to see people have enough sense now to protect their rights against corrupt law enforcers.

posted on 12 Jan 2012, 19:39 6

4. ZEUS.the.thunder.god (unregistered)


why are you keeping everybody in the same boat ?

posted on 12 Jan 2012, 20:16 4

5. hjd77 (Posts: 2; Member since: 09 Jan 2012)


Typical......Since you dont like the police, dont dial 911 when you get robbed, your car gets stolen, your home burglarized, you get your ass whipped or your sister gets raped. Its stupidty like your comment I CANT STAND. Btw, in case you didnt pick up on it, I have relatives who are cops and damn fair and good ones too helping people like yourself who cant help themselves.

posted on 12 Jan 2012, 21:16 2

8. crankyd00d (Posts: 191; Member since: 17 Oct 2011)


Thank you teach the ignorant fool a lesson, people shouldn't say cops are bad only because of a few rotten apples, my family and myself are alive thanks to their efforts because they wanted to go the extra mile which they weren't required to go, policemen and firemen, thank you for your hard work sirs and ladies

posted on 13 Jan 2012, 00:47

9. Zayuh24 (Posts: 148; Member since: 21 Nov 2011)


Eh. Guess I saw this coming since the comment wasn't completely spelled out. I never said all police are "corrupt law enforcers" but I do have a lot of bad instances with police and security since I am an African-American male that lives in one of those environments that all of that stuff goes on. Yes, there are good cops (even though I've never met any), and I damn sure respect firemen that actually save lives. I don't expect you to stand in my, or anyone else's shoes if you've never experienced the things I have, so I'm calling your bluff.

Btw, you have to call 911 and file a police report regarding a stolen car as instructed by the insurance agencies and car dealerships, or your case will never be investigated. In most cases, the insurance agency does the investigation anyway unless a murder was involved.

posted on 13 Jan 2012, 08:41 4

14. iamcc (Posts: 1319; Member since: 07 Oct 2011)


When my car was stolen in Michigan I called the police and they never even filed an investigation.

Someone attacked me and my girlfriend in my car with an aluminum baseball bat and I called the police... immediately after putting him in the back seat of their car they proceeded to search me my girlfriend and my car because they said we smelled like marijuana. They never found any and let us go, but while I was bleeding from glass embedded in my face they were trying to charge me with possession charges for no reason.

Cops can go f**k themselves. The good ones are rare.

posted on 13 Jan 2012, 20:55 1

16. QWIKSTRIKE (Posts: 827; Member since: 09 Mar 2010)


If you get man handled by a cop just because he thinks he can get away with it because he has a badge you would change your mind HJD. People don't just hate cops because they have been good to them. I have personally had my run ins while not breaking any laws at all, and I personally know someone that was caught in a NYC arrest quota scam in 1987.... go look it up.

They were arresting anyone, and every one to satisfy a quota for the City. A cop asked the person to leave a 57 st subway station for no good reason after he paid his fare in the turn style which he observed my friend pay. He asked him why should he leave, and the cop said because he was the law.

When my friend asked what law he had broken the cop said none. He told him since he had broke no law, and had paid his fare that he would only leave if he gave him his fare back. The cope said no, and my friend said that I shall proceed unless you return my fare. The cop was clearly trying to impress his rookie partner, and said how would you like to see me throw you out.
My friend said I'd like to see you try to violate my rights after I have paid my fare, and the cop proceeded to put his hand my friends my neck, and crotch and tried to throw him out. That didn't go to well for him because my friend was not having it. In the end my friend was surrounded by a squad of police just as he was lifting the cop up into the air. He put the cop down, but he was given a disorderly ticket and taken in.

The case was thrown out because, when it went to trial it was found to be an arrest quota scam by the city of N.Y., and that people like my friend that never had a record, were being assaulted, and arrested while passing through the 57 street station. There was a red flag raised by the media, that there was an unusual high amount of arrest of white collar workers while wearing a business suit like my friend was wearing at that particular station.

That's how the quota was discovered, and cops begin blowing the whistle on the administrations policies of an arrest quota. Nothing has change because it seems our current mayor recently had a aggressive stop and frisk policy where cops were encouraged to break the law to make arrest. They were told they were breaking the law and these practice had to stop. I saw this last week on current t.v..

posted on 12 Jan 2012, 18:18 6

3. quakan (Posts: 1134; Member since: 02 Mar 2011)


Someone should make an app called Record a Cop for Android and iOS that will allow for you to instantly start recording video once you tap the app without delay.

posted on 12 Jan 2012, 20:19 1

6. theBankRobber (Posts: 645; Member since: 22 Sep 2011)


Haha omg that was funny.

posted on 12 Jan 2012, 21:00 5

7. BattleBrat (Posts: 1036; Member since: 26 Oct 2011)


and it should stream it live to their website for safe keeping, let's see the Po Po delete THAT! HA !

posted on 13 Jan 2012, 13:20

15. Gotchafone (Posts: 23; Member since: 15 Nov 2011)


you mean like Qik?

posted on 13 Jan 2012, 01:03

10. MorePhonesThanNeeded (Posts: 618; Member since: 23 Oct 2011)


Nothing wrong with being allowed to record officers actions, why? First thing these guys are being paid to serve and protect us, and if we feel that they are going over the line we have the right to file a complaint and if we have irrefutable proof(such as a video that cannot be found to have shady reputation nor is afraid of snitching). Police are not the LAW, the represent the LAW. They have to uphold the statutes chartered to them.

Just like everything, there are those who abuse their power and police are no different. What I don't get is the general public expecting police, fire dept and the like to be super human and not have issues like the rest of us. What are you people retarded? Everyone has issues, remember that we are all human and we all have our off days. How about a thank you or a nice job officer once in a while, may not seem like much but trust me it can make someone's day just hearing that.

But for the others who like to abuse their power be warned, lauding power over the masses doesn't always bode well. People also need to respect officers a lot more, seriously respect the authority and things will go a lot more smoothly for you and you can even avoid that ticket or a night in the jail and an expensive fine and court appearance.

posted on 13 Jan 2012, 05:24

12. lemenade (Posts: 31; Member since: 28 Jul 2011)


Yeah but this person carries a gun, so i really don't want them to make a mistake and allow a bad day to influence their actions where they may be more likely to shoot some one.

posted on 13 Jan 2012, 08:23

13. chuckyoo (Posts: 34; Member since: 18 Oct 2011)


I respect our LEOs but some are plain stupid and if you ask those about the constitutional amendment, they have no clue. Some are there to really serve and protect and some are there just to bully people. The bad apples makes many stereotype cops which should not be. Just like in our jobs, you don't walk around because you have an issue giving people middle finger when then speak to you. We all know what is right and wrong but some forget what it states on their cars "To protect and serve". In most cases they are scared because of the brainwash and fear instilled in them in their training. Not everyone is bad but the bottom line is this, if they can record you, and those street cameras can record you, then you should be able to record them too just so they know they too are not above the law.

posted on 13 Jan 2012, 02:34

11. thelegend6657 (unregistered)


I hate cops , even your family is murdered you can report to the police and I can guarantee you there is only a 10% chance of getting the suspect caught unless it's a high profile case . Fact is we pay their but they act like they can do whatever they like have a gun they think . Most of them are corrupted anyway .. What's worst is cop shows where most of them are shown to be good and like a big hero or something that we all know will not happen in reality

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