Must You Hand Your Camera to a Police Officer if Asked?

In the United States the answer is no, unless that camera has been used to commit a crime (such as child pornography), or as a weapon in a crime (such as beating someone with it).

I have been following the recent sad case where Johannes Mehserle, a BART officer, fatally shot 22-year-old Oscar Grant while Grant was restrained on a train platform on New Year’s Day. Many videos were taken by witnesses using their mobile phones. These mobile phones were confiscated by police when they got to the scene. The videos that have made it on the internet and to the news agencies are those taken by passengers on the train, which departed before the police arrived, or by onlookers on the platform who managed to walk away from the scene before the police got to them.

Could the police lawfully take away these mobile phones from the witnesses? The answer is at the top of this post.

Read more about the story as it pertains to photographers’ legal rights at Photography Is Not a Crime.

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One Response to “Must You Hand Your Camera to a Police Officer if Asked?”

  1. Good post. Unfortunately, cops don’t always understand the laws they try to enforce, and sometimes they make decisions above their pay grade.

    You might remember my run in with the Pittsburgh PD, or rather ONE rogue officer. I gave him a little lip, but conceded my rights to him without much of a fight. If I lived in Pittsburgh I’d have tested his authority with certainty the ACLU would have backed me, but since I was not 100% sure on the rules/laws in Pittsburgh transit, and only had a half day left, I decided to comply. Funny thing Pittsburghs T system is perhaps the smallest in the world, and there are thousands of photos on the web, to think my snapshot would have been the one to bring it all down is insane.

    Great post though, photographers in the know can better defend the limited rights we have remaining after the Bush administration was finished gutting the constitution.

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