UPDATE: 12:30 p.m. EDT —
Republican legislators will not challenge a recent decision temporarily blocking a new law prohibiting bystanders from recording police within eight feet. The Associated Press indicated the bill’s sponsor could not find a legal team to take up the challenge.
Arizona state Rep. John Kavanagh, former law enforcement, plans to craft new legislation that would comport with the constitution. He first tried to introduce legislation in 2016. The ACLU of Arizona and media organizations challenged the current version based on violations of the First Amendment.
Kavanagh’s claim that obstructing bystanders’ ability to record police activity is necessary to protect law enforcement is unfounded. Attempting to prevent bystander recording is not new. Last year a story ran in the MIT Technology Review documenting the tactics used by police to obstruct bystanders’ ability to take videos and pictures.
“People film the police because they know that officers hurt or kill people and lie about it; because it is generally within their First Amendment rights to do so; and because recording an encounter with the cops might make them feel a little bit safer,” read the article. “Police departments cannot simply be taken at their word, and independent video of possible misconduct or violence can sometimes be the only thing with the power to make a false police narrative give way to the truth.”
An Arizona law that interferes with people’s ability to record police interactions has been put on hold. According to the Associated Press, a federal judge issued a preliminary injection preventing the law from taking effect as scheduled on Sept. 24.
The American Civil Liberties Union and several media organizations challenged the law on first amendment grounds. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed House Bill 2319 into law in July 2022, despite broad opposition.
Introduced earlier this year by a former police officer, HB 2319 prohibits individuals from recording police within eight feet. While the law contained a few exceptions, the ACLU of Arizona and media organizations maintained it was unconstitutional. One exception permitted occupants of a vehicle to record police during a stop so long as it didn’t interfere with police carrying out their duties.
Aside from limiting bystanders’ ability to record police interactions, leaving it up to the police to determine what does and doesn’t interfere poses serious issues and could lead to situations with police falsely claiming recordings are an interference.
The ACLU of Arizona published a blog entry on its website explaining the issues with HB 2319 and why legal action was necessary. The entry also noted the great utility of bystander videos in bringing police misconduct to light.
“One of the best tools available to hold law enforcement accountable is a video camera —in other words, the right to record,” read an ACLU of Arizona blog. “The First Amendment protects our right to record police engaged in official duties. Every federal circuit to consider the right to record — seven out of 13 circuits — has held that this right clearly exists, and most have specified that it applies to law enforcement.”
As the ACLU of Arizona blog pointed out, video footage has been instrumental in spotlighting police killing civilians.
“That footage has been critical to pushing back on unchecked police brutality. But now, this essential right is under attack,” the blog entry continued. “Unsurprisingly, members of law enforcement commonly attempt to interfere with recordings of their conduct or harass those who have recorded them in violation of the constitutional right to record. The Arizona law, too, has been framed as ‘preventing violence and misunderstandings, preventing the destruction of evidence and preventing police officers from harm,’ but it makes shockingly little effort to hide its true purpose — preventing people from exercising their constitutional right to record.”
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