PHOENIX — The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and a group of 10 media organizations, represented by the ACLU and Ballard Spahr, respectively, filed a lawsuit against the state of Arizona today challenging HB 2319, a law which makes it a crime to record police officers within eight feet of law enforcement activity. The suit challenges the law as a violation of the First Amendment, and seeks to stop HB 2319 from going into effect. The constitutional right to record police engaged in official duties is one of the public’s most effective accountability tools against police wrongdoing.
Video recording of police encounters and other law enforcement activity in public is one of the few ways community members and the media can hold police accountable for misconduct. Over the last decade, the simple act of recording police misconduct has raised public awareness about police brutality and ignited movements to demand reform across the country. Arizona’s HB 2319 would directly suppress free speech rights, while also limiting public accountability and effective protest of government actions.
“At a time when the public is demanding police accountability, Arizona wants to criminalize the public’s most effective tool for shining a light on police violence,” said Jared Keenan, legal director of the ACLU of Arizona. “This law is not only unconstitutional, it is bad public policy.”
Under Arizona’s law, a person commits a crime if they film an officer engaged in law enforcement activity within eight feet if they have been warned to stop. This vests far too much power in individual officers to stop someone from recording them if they don’t want to be recorded. It also makes it nearly impossible to record police in large protests, where protesters may walk within eight feet of a line of police monitoring the protest from all sides.
“We have a right to hold police officers accountable by recording their activities in public,”said Esha Bhandari, deputy director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “Arizona’s law will prevent people from engaging in recording that doesn’t interfere with police activity, and it will suppress the reporting and advocacy that results from video evidence of police misconduct. The First Amendment does not permit that outcome.”
“We fear that, rather than acting as a shield to ensure ‘officer safety,’ this law will serve as a sword to abridge the ‘clearly established’ First Amendment right to video record police officers performing their official duties in public,” said National Press Photographers association (NPPA) general counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher. “We hope the court will agree and strike down this law as unconstitutional.”
Every federal circuit court to consider the matter has recognized the right to record police engaged in official duties in public, including the Ninth Circuit, which covers Arizona.
The plaintiffs in this case include the ACLU of Arizona and the following media organizations: Phoenix Newspapers, Inc.; Gray Television; Scripps Media; KPNX (12 News); Fox Television Stations; NBCUniversal Media (Telemundo Arizona/KTAZ); Arizona Broadcasters Association; States Newsroom (AZ Mirror); Arizona Newspapers Association; and the National Press Photographers Association.
This case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.