Free Speech Week — Wednesday

This is the third day of Free Speech Week, during which we will be celebrating freedom of speech by posting highlights from Cato’s recent work to support freedom of speech in its various forms, whether through legal advocacy, media appearances, or other public outreach.

Today we will highlight the First Amendment right of citizens to record on-duty police officers. This has been a controversial topic over the past few years, as police officers have in many instances reacted negatively, unprofessionally, or even illegally to being recorded by bystanders. While federal courts have now acknowledged the inherent First Amendment right of citizens to record public officials performing their duties, many officers still side-step the law and make arrests based on trumped up charges, like obstruction or delay of an officer. 

The following Cato video featuring Radley Balko, Clark Neily, and David Rittgers gives a good overview of the importance of the right to record the police:

Also, a couple years back, I hosted a panel discussion at Cato on laws that prohibit recording the police. The video can be found here.

Being able to record the police is important because of the much needed accountability that it provides. Many of the stories and accounts I’ve written about on Cato’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project have only come to light because concerned citizens have stood up against police misconduct by recording it—sometimes resulting in further abuse to themselves or their family. The ability to record and then speak out when something wrong happens goes to the heart of the First Amendment, which makes the fight over recording the police a good topic to remember on Free Speech Week.

For more information on Free Speech Week and to learn how you can help celebrate free speech, check out www.FreeSpeechWeek.org.