Citizens recording police safe in Washington
TECHWATCH
By DAVID CANTON, Special to QMI Agency
   


In various countries, there has been a trend towards authorities stopping, questioning, intimidating, charging and even arresting people who are simply taking photographs of public places. These people might be videoing police in action, or may be just tourists taking pictures.

Police or security guards often insist that the photographer is breaking the law, and somehow think that taking photos equates to gathering information for terrorist purposes. There is also the belief that people that people are not allowed to use their cellphones, or other recording devices to record the actions of the police. In some cases this has resulted in arrests, and even seizing cellphones to delete the recordings.

Two years ago a Washington, D.C., citizen sued the city after he was told to stop taking pictures of a traffic stop in Georgetown. The court recently decided in his favour.

Police Chief Cathy Lanier has since adopted a policy making it clear that taking photos and recording videos is perfectly acceptable behaviour.

If an officer sees an individual recording his or her actions, the officer may not use that as a reason to ask the individual for ID, demand an explanation for the recording, deliberately obstruct the camera, or arrest them. Under no circumstances should the person be asked to stop recording. If an individual is in a position that interferes with the safety of police or their ability to perform their duties, the officer may ask the person to move out of the way.

Another scenario is when someone takes a photograph or recording that a police officer believes could be evidence of a crime. Under Lanier's directive, an officer cannot take a recording device away from an individual without his or her consent. If the police officer believes the recording is needed for evidence but its owner is not willing to part with it, the officer is required to call a supervisor. The device or recording media can only be seized if the supervisor is present, only if there is probable cause to believe that the property holds evidence of a crime, and only if the circumstances demand it or some other recognized exception to the warrant requirement is present.

The policy instructs that police officers shall not delete any recorded images or sounds from any recording device. Recording devices that are in department custody should be preserved, so they can be returned to the owner with images or recordings undisturbed.

The example being set in Washington is a reasonable and refreshing approach. It is a model that should be followed everywhere.

David Canton is a business lawyer and trademark agent with a technology focus at Harrison Pensa LLP. This article, written with the assistance of Erika Ramage, contains general comments only, not legal advice. Contact David at 519-661-6776, visit www.harrisonpensa.com/lawyers/david-canton or www.canton.elegal.ca.






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