Are Police allowed to Stop you from Recording Them?
A video posted on Youtube in July shows an Australian police officer in Queensland assaulting a woman for videotaping him during a traffic stop. She was about 40 to 50 feet away from him across the street and not seeming to interfere with his job in any way.
With everyone having smart phones and tablets these days, do Australian citizens have the right to record police officers while they are doing their jobs?
Yes private citizens do have the legal right to film the police if it is in a public place and as long as it does not interfere with the performance of the police officer’s duties. What many people do not realise is that they have the right to photograph the police even when the police tell them not to record them.
Intentional interference by the police of peaceful recording such as blocking the camera or demanding that someone stop videotaping constitutes censorship. However, police could arrest someone through the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 for such misdemeanors as obstruction type criminal offences or disorderly conduct.
In the case of “Move Along,” police officers can tell you to move along if “they believe on reasonable grounds that you are:
• obstructing another person
• obstructing traffic
• harassing or intimidating another person or persons
• causing, or likely to cause, fear to another person or persons.”
Can Police Randomly Stop and Search Me?
Also according to the “Public Disorder” directives, police may be given Emergency Powers to stop and search people and their belongings even if they have not done anything wrong. This includes seizing and detaining personal items such as vehicles and mobile phones.
If it is legal to record police in public why do police in Australia continue to intimidate and threaten to arrest citizens for filming them?
Courts recognize that recording police activities is legal. However, with technology and laws constantly changing, some police officers have not yet been trained otherwise. They may also feel his or her authority is being challenged and react accordingly.
Many police officers and citizens in Australia believe that as soon as a police officer tells you to do or not to do something that it is an order. However, police can only order citizens to do something (or not) based on the current laws in effect.
What Should I do if a Police Officer Tells me to Stop Recording Them?
If you are approached by the police while recording them, you should calmly explain what you are doing and state you have a legal right to do so. Unfortunately there are many instances where this has not worked and people from photojournalists to innocent bystanders have been arrested for filming the police. That is why you need to know your legal rights. Alarmingly, we have been told by many of our clients that the recording of the incident on their phones had “disappeared” after returned to them by Police…
Are there cases in which a police officer can stop you from recording them?
The reason why you are allowed to record any activity (including police activity) in a public place is because according to Australian legislation there can be no reasonable expectation of privacy while in public. The police can however, stop you from recording them if they are on private property.
There are also Eavesdropping / Wiretapping Laws that make it illegal to use your phone or other device to audio record a private conversation without consent.
If you do record the police protect yourself by ensuring 1) that the filming was done openly and 2) it was done without infringing on the officer’s duties. If you have been arrested or your equipment confiscated a criminal lawyer can help.