Camera Shy and Unaccountable: The Constitutional, Statutory, and Democratic Ramifications of Police Seizing and Deleting Photos and Video Taken in Pub

njdiver

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Camera Shy and Unaccountable: The Constitutional, Statutory, and Democratic Ramifications of Police Seizing and Deleting Photos and Video Taken in Public

Journalists and the more than 114 million Americans who carry smartphones are now in a position to instantly record and publicize any incident they see where police do not act properly, and some police officers are uncomfortable with this increased scrutiny. An alarming trend has developed of police officers seizing and deleting photographs and videos that were lawfully taken in public. Recent court cases and scholarship have clearly established citizens’ rights to record police officers’ actions in public. Yet, camera shy officers, either ignorant of the law or intentionally ignoring it, have increasingly been intimidating photographers into handing over their cameras and then erasing the memory cards or hard drives. These actions effectively illegally seize and destroy photographers’ property without due process of law and cause a prior restraint of speech, in contravention to the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and various federal statutes. Thanks to governmental immunity, police officers are rarely held accountable through lawsuits for these actions, yet the ramifications of unchecked police power and a suppressed ability to complain about abuses threaten the very fabric of American democracy. Steps must be taken to prevent these blatant violations of fundamental constitutional rights and preserve citizens’ ability to hold police accountable by photographing or videotaping their actions in public

 

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