Arizona state legislature just passed a law which bans the filming of police at a close distance. Unauthorised filming of police within a distance of 8 feet could result in fines or jail time. Critics of the new Arizona law have called the ban a threat to free speech and freedom of the press.
Over the past few years the rise of mobile phone footage from witnesses and bystanders has become increasingly common. On some occasions this has helped expose unfair or unlawful treatment at the hands of police officers. The filming of one such incident of the death of George Floyd in 2020 sparked worldwide protests and support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
People who ignore a verbal warning and continue filming risk a misdemeanour charge and up to 30 days in jail. The law, however, makes exceptions for people interacting with police, or in enclosed area on private property. Additionally, if you’re the subject of a law enforcement encounter (including a vehicle stop), the bill allows you to film, provided that, again, it does not interfere with “lawful police actions.”
State representative John Kavanagh has argued it is necessary because “groups hostile to the police” sometimes “get dangerously close to potentially violent encounters”.
But the timing is interesting. This bill passed just one year after the US Department of Justice launched a far-reaching investigation into the Phoenix police department’s potential use of excessive force, according to NPR.
The National Press Photographers Association filed an official objection in February, along with an open letter signed by major media outlets and First Amendment Advocates, including BuzzFeed, The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and the Society of Professional Journalists.
There is genuine concern for the freedom of speech and first amendement rights. “By limiting our ability to record police interactions, this law will undoubtedly make it even more difficult to hold police officers accountable for misconduct,” American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona staff attorney K.M. Bell told Insider.
This is not the first place to make filming or photographing police an offence. In Spain, the law has resulted in photojournalists receiving substantial fines, up to a year after the incident happened.
The Arizona law comes into effect on 24 September and will make it illegal to film police officers in the state within a distance of 8 feet.
[Via BBC News]