Federal Court: recording cops an unambiguous first amendment right

When Simon Glik recorded Boston Suffolk County police doing something they shouldn't, he was threatened and ultimately arrested by a crackpot cop who boasted, "I've been doing this for thirty years and there's nothing you can hold over my head." The result of his legal troubles? A federal court ruling that videotaping police is an unambiguous and constitutionally protected right. [Citmedialaw via Gizmodo]


  1. This is not in Boston…this is suffolk county long island. Im not even in the slightest been surprised in this response from those cops.

    1. If you go back and look at Gizmodo, it’s clear that the video is of another arrest different from the Boston case.  It’s a good example of police abuse of power and wiretapping laws that was well documented on video.  Rob should edit his post because he’s confusing the two cases.  

    2. Yes, that is not Boston Common in the clip, as the story suggests, and Boston Police cars say “Boston Police” on them, not “Suffolk Police.”

  2. “I’ve been doing this for thirty years and there’s nothing you can hold over my head.”
    How about a Multi-Million dollar law-suit?

  3. I think the attitude of the cop in the video is what caused such an unambiguous ruling from the court. “There isn’t nothing you can hold over my head” talk.

  4. Two other great rulings in this case: 
    there is no difference between citizen journalists and professional journalists under the law, and the officers can be sued as individuals for violating his 4th amendment right to unreasonable search and seizure. 

    A few more thoughts after reading the whole ruling. If Glick had hidden his camera, or used a clandestine camera to record then he COULD be arrested for wiretapping, but because he was visibly holding his camera out for all to see he can not. More importantly the court ruled that the right to video tape cops is well established and that no reasonable cop should think otherwise.

    1. I wonder if the “sued as individuals for violating the 4th amendment” would apply to TSA employees or the big box checking receipts on the way out of the store even without a security alarm going off?

      1. TSA, I have no idea, but a department store has no legal right to search you or seize your property. They can ask you to leave. They can refuse to complete a sale right up until the moment money changes hands. I think they can even detain you if they call the police to accuse you of something. But that’s all. They can *ask* to check your receipt, but (unless you’ve signed a contract that says otherwise, like at Costco) they cannot require it.

        1. The “shopkeeper’s privilege” does generally include detention sufficient for a reasonable investigation as to whether you’ve stolen from them, whether or not they’ve called the police (though it may be wise to do so). But it’s true that it does not include the right to search.

          This all can vary by jurisdiction, though, and any actual lawyers should feel free to correct me.

          1. Someone oughta press that case, and make big loud noisy stinks at Fry’s Electronics or Guitar Center stores when asked to present receipts at the exit.  Maybe they know whether they’ve got a legal leg to stand on, maybe they don’t.

            Personally, I have a whole lot of better things to do with my time than fight that particular policy, especially since it costs me approximately three seconds and 0.06% of my dignity per visit.  But I’m mildly interested in what the results of such a protest might be.

          2. The “shopkeeper’s privilege” does generally include detention sufficient for a reasonable investigation as to whether you’ve stolen from them, whether or not they’ve called the police (though it may be wise to do so). But it’s true that it does not include the right to search.

            Shopkeepers don’t have any particular privilege. They can perform a citizens arrest, but if you aren’t actually guilty then it’s assault and battery (at least). They have to know absolutely that you’ve committed a crime before they take any action against you.

            As for checking receipts, you are well within your rights to refuse. Their only recourse is to ask you to leave.

  5. Considering the scenerio of cops destroying the camera/witness, it’s got to be nailed down that this also includes recording without the cop’s knowledge, as well as without his consent.  We all must be gargoyles, I suppose.

    Timely post on those keyfob cameras yesterday.

  6. I’m going to take a bit of exception to this one- I have a pet theory that cops fall into three categories: people who became cops because they want to help other people, people who became cops because it was an easy career path, and people who became cops to push others around. Frankly, I suspect that the latter two categories are a serious minority, but that they get the lions share of the attention.

    Most police officers take “protect and serve” very seriously. Again, just my opinion, but their job tends strongly to suck and I wouldn’t do it.

    1. I think the trend in the post-9/11 world of “Homeland Security” is to disregard inconvenient rights that get in the way of the bullying nature of people in positions of authority that otherwise shouldn’t be there. 

      I think that the big influx of cash into localities to beef up police staff didn’t necessarily get spent on people interested in protecting and serving so much as people who wanted a job that involved guns and dominating others. So the trend is definitely away from the “Andy Taylor” style of officer towards a more jack-booted variant that seems to be emerging as the public face of law enforcement, whether you dislike or disagree with the trend.

    2. I notice quite a few officers in the video above, not one of them stopped the jerk cop from violating the rights of that innocent man. No sign of them trying to help a citizen in need.

    3. The “most cops are good” theory goes right out the window any time there is an investigation into police misconduct.  While some (maybe even most) cops are generally good, the minute they start protecting the bad ones with their blue wall of silence, they cease being good cops.

      If these cops really cared one lick about justice, they’d be after police criminals every bit as hard as they’re after civilian criminals.  Instead, they protect the bad apples and let them fester.  The “good” cops will lie on reports and claim everything is justified and by-the-books.  If you’re helping bad cops get away with breaking the law, you’re not a good cop.

    4. unfortunately the good cops back up the bad cops no matter what. It takes being caught with an underage boy before the rest of the blue line will shun you.

    5. Michael, there is a subset of your third identified group of individuals that decide to take the police career path–High School and Junior College football players who found the “badge” gave them the same power as donning the pads. 

      I point to my yearbook, then I point to my local police protection.  That is all.

    6. If the “good” cops took their oaths seriously, there would be no bad cops: protecting and serving doesn’t mean protecting your buddies in the force and serving their interests. They know, and they keep quiet. Therefore, I am forced to conclude that there are NO good cops. When the goods ones want to stand up and clean things up, I will change my opinion, not until.

      1. That’s working on the assumption that there are no cops that are willing to call out bad cops. There may well be, but the problem is that there are so few resources for said officers–sure, some areas have Internal Affairs departments, but it may be safe to assume that those IA officers are going to protect their buddies, too. It’s a classic who-will-watch-the-watchmen problem, except that not all of the watchmen are bad.

    1. Sure, it’s not an outlier, but most cops are not like this at all. And I say this as someone with a low opinion of policing in general.

      The real problem isn’t the minority of cops who break the law, it’s the majority of their colleagues who aid and abet them.

  7. Only dirty cops are afraid of being videoed. If they are doing the proper things as they do their job, then what have they to fear?

    1. Only dirty cops are afraid of being videoed.

      I’m not sure I’d go that far; I don’t think I’d be comfortable having someone taping me without my consent while I was working either. Of course, whether or not they are comfortable is completely irrelevant. It’s clearly legal and police need to recognize that whether they like it or not.

  8. Being a jerk is learned behavior in the police force.  It may not be taught officially, but as soon as a cop gets a beat you can be sure his peers will let him know “how it works on the streets”.  I say this as someone with cops in the family, who grew up around Boston cops.  You never know who is a scumbag and who is a regular joe, so just bully or arrest all of them and you’ll stay alive longer.  Cameras make this particular method of self preservation more difficult.

  9. “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to be afraid of.” Isn’t that what we have heard for years, about CCTV and the surveillance society? I have lot of respect for law enforcement but as the saying goes, if you want to know someone’s character, give them power. 

    Apropos of this, I heard a song t’other week with the chorus “shoot the cops.” Turns out it was about videotaping interactions with them, just as in this case. 

    1. Cops should be held to a higher standard than most people.  I think that you can believe it’s OK to video tape the actions of cops- or other public officials who represent the people- and still not think it’s OK to video tape every person for no reason.

    2. Actually, I think that quote about not doing anything wrong very much applies in this situation–but as an argument for the other side. With greater oversight, whether from the public or from Internal Affairs, this kind of harassment could have been avoided. If you have a group of vigilant, watchful citizens and vigilant, watchful cops working together, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for bad eggs, as the bald douchebag in the above video learned the hard way.

      1. Not sure we’re on the same page. The argument in defense of CCTV is that no one should fear surveillance if they aren’t doing anything wrong. If this regime is OK for citizens, it should be acceptable to law enforcement. I don’t expect an officer to have the demeanor of a maitre’d during a traffic stop but I think a power trip or similar attitude is unacceptable. 

  10. Great news.  Police officers should be held accountable for their actions.  Sort of obvious, but glad to hear a judge agreeing we’re legally allowed to do it.

  11. Greg and Foobar…this is where I see the next problem.  No officer is going to arrest or stop another officer from doing something on the street, or in the station, or anywhere else.  As long as they do nothing, in my opinion, they are no better than the ones who are violating peoples rights.  What desperately needs to happen is for the OTHER officers to be charged criminally.  A conspiracy charge should be good enough since usually the officers either compare notes or write them together, and since false charges are usually filed, it should be a pretty easy case to prosecute.  I was talking with someone about how to effectively change the culture in the police force.  The only way I see is for mandatory fines when its determined that violations have occurred.  This way, you don’t have to sue the department as it is now.  The fine should be high (random assessment of similar judgements to set the fine).  On top of that, it is split three ways and payable ONLY by those splits (IE, department CANNOT cover the officers individual fine).  The split is department, violating officer, and Chief of police.  The fine to the department and Police Cheif stay consistent (unless a pattern develops), and the officers individual fine INCREASES for every repeat violation.  This way, hopefully, the officer will learn the ‘correct’ behavior for being a cop.  If that doesn’t work, shock collars.

  12. I live in suffolk county…there seem to be a lot of awful cops around here.

    One time when I was a teenager, I was walking around with a friend late at the night. We were minding our own business, but a cop pulled over and decided to just search us. He went through all of our stuff for no reason! This has happened to several other people I know.

    One cop made my friends and I take turns writing down each others full names at the front of the police car (because we didn’t present id) while he made the rest of us stand near the back singing the jeopardy song. If we got quiet for a second, he yelled at us and threatened to take us in. Yes, we were trespassing on state property (Kings Park Psych, an abandoned mental hospital), but the way he messed with us for his own amusement was disgusting. Meanwhile, there were people on the roof of the abandoned building that we outside taunting and throwing stuff down at us. The cop did nothing about it, except yell up at them that they were lucky he was too lazy to go up there!

    And aren’t Suffolk County cops the highest paid in the country?

    1. I was on a playground after dusk and got hassled by a cop for crossing my arms and giving her a “look” because she whipped out a notepad and asked for our names and DOBs. I realize we were trespassing, but she then gave me a lecture, and even after I apologized continued to shout at me about how I needed to learn respect. I’m sorry she was having a bad day, but hot damn. I just hope she’s not having a bad day when someone straight-up talks back to her, because I’m afraid of what she’d do.

      Related to the post: Is this a first for a federal court ruling? Do I need to RTFA more in-depth for that? I hope it sticks.

      1. @surreality:twitter , re: “[the policewoman] continued to shout at me about how I needed to learn respect.” There are some generations, and apparently some parts of the current generations, who believe in unearned respect. Even when respect is earned, it does not imply subordination of yourself — which is probably what she really meant. Yuck.

  13. No to power without transparency! And the greater the power, the greater the transparency must be.

  14. I’m confused.

    The video shows Suffolk County New York police. The article, however, is about a 1st circuit decision– New York is in the 2nd circuit, and, of course, the Boston Common is not on Long Island.

    Boston is located within Suffolk County, Massachusetts.

    Here’s a Suffolk County (Massachusetts) cop car: It’s brown, with yellow markings.


  15. A keyfob camera is a nice “holdout” – you can use an obvious camera to let them know they’re being watched, and a less obvious one to catch them destroying evidence.

    Cops really need to be aware that they simply can’t stop citizen evidence gathering.  They need to be aware of the existence of services that stream video from cell phone cameras to online servers in real time.  This means that they’re only making it worse for themselves by trying to seize cameras, because it’s possible that the video they’re trying to seize is already being watched by people 1000 miles away.

  16. smile , your fourth amendment rights have just been violated !  way too much of this type of thing going on. Too many “police” officers thinking laws do not apply to them and they can make them up as they go along – also way too many states standing behind officers that do wrong. 
    “To Protect and Serve” not “To Stop unconstitutionally and Harass”. I just watched another video where in Arkansas a man was arrested for not complying to an officers request to show vaild ID after he had been video taping them  FROM HIS OWN GARAGE ! the officers stepped into his garage after he asked why they were acting like NAZI’s then demanded his ID citing he was causing “obstruction of justice ” obstructing an arrest that had already occurred and the officers were leaving the scene ……. 

  17. I wish there had been someone recording a recent incident in Washington, DC. A drunken off-duty policeman shot several transgender people sitting in a car and has since been arrested and charged. Before he started shooting: “He pulled a gun on one of the victims, who then reported the incident to an off-duty D.C. police officer working security at the pharmacy, charging documents said.  The CVS officer determined that Furr was an ‘off-duty officer, and therefore no further action was necessary,’ the charging document said.” There is then some confusion about whether he shot them and crashed his car into theirs, or crashed into them first and then shot them.Read more at the Washington Examiner: http://washingtonexaminer.com/local/2011/08/officer-transgender-shooting-had-prior-alcohol-run-ins#ixzz1WXK4bF4k

  18. Just to be clear, the linked video has nothing to do with the Gilk case. Gilk was arrested for filming Boston Police on the Boston Common.This video shows a similar incident on Long Island; the county name is coincidentally the same.

  19. The court case was about Boston Police on Boston Common.  Boston is in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, which does not have police; it has a Sheriff’s Department, but they only handle the jails.  Boston also has Suffolk University, which has police, but they don’t have guns.
    The video shows Suffolk County, New York, police.

  20. Fuck yes.

    Man, that cop was a dick, and I’ve been on the receiving end of that kind of treatment a dozen times.

    Most cops I’ve dealt with think that you not doing what they say is a crime.  Fuck the police.  They fuck with the populace on the regular and with impunity.

    We need a “public prosecutor’s office” so the poor can sue over police misconduct.

    Even if you think many of them got into the force to help people (and I think those are the minority), take a look at the results Stanford Prison Experiment.

  21. For its next trick, Massachusetts will allow the sale of alcohol on Sunday! (Ok, in fact the state already did that, but it took them until 2004 to realize that the Pilgrims aren’t really allowed to set policy).

  22. The youtube video has nothing to do with the case.  Click through to the article, go to the end, click on the last link which leads to the ACLU produced video that contains a snippit of the original cell phone video in question. 

    Really Boing Boing?  If you can’t be bothered with something as basic as linking to the correct video, you might as well just use  a clip from Law and Order or Reno 911.

  23. Not sure why the video showed the texas flag.  We can record whatever the hell we want.  Only one party has to be privy to recording here.  Those northern blue states have way too much corruption to allow that.

    1. Not sure why the video showed the texas flag.  We can record whatever
      the hell we want.  Only one party has to be privy to recording here. 
      Those northern blue states have way too much corruption to allow that.

      Texas is not especially free from civic corruption.

  24. foobar, you dont know what your talking about. Shopkeepers do have special privelidges, regarding detaining people for sholifting. And “assault” and “battery” have special legal meanings, yet you throw them around like being accused of stealing involves them. It doesnt.

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