In response to a lawsuit raised by Christopher Sharp, the US Justice Department has issued a statement clarifying that it is legal to film law enforcement officers, and that they have no right to access and destroy personal content on your phone without a warrant or a trial:
“The right to record police officers while performing duties in a public place, as well as the right to be protected from the warrantless seizure and destruction of those recordings, are not only required by the Constitution. They are consistent with our fundamental notions of liberty, promote the accountability of our governmental officers, and instill public confidence in the police officers who serve us daily…” (via PhoneArena.com)
Hopefully the government’s statement ends some confusion over these issues. It may make it more difficult for US states like Illinois to invoke wiretapping laws to charge eyewitnesses for holding cameras, or to block journalists from reporting on public meetings.
And hopefully police will think twice before deleting unflattering evidence from people’s cell phones or cameras, as alleged in this Canadian case. As obviously wrong as it may seem, this kind of unethical tampering has become a “constitutional question of great moment in this digital age,” as the Justice Department’s statement so poetically puts it.