Phones with video recorders are now ubiquitous. And with more cameras, there has been an increasing number of traffic-stop videos popping up on social media.
But these videos raise an important question: Is it legal to film a police officer during a traffic stop? Does it get in the way of the officer’s duty, or does it protect your civil rights?
Know your rights
In general, you have the right to film a public figure, such as a police officer, in any public space, according to the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
This includes the right to film during traffic stops. Federal courts have repeatedly upheld these rights, citing protections guaranteed under the First Amendment.
In fact, after one highly-publicized incident in which a North Carolina police officer incorrectly told a driver he couldn’t film a stop, the police department issued a statement encouraging filming, saying, “We believe that public videos help to protect the police as well as our citizens and provide critical information during police and citizen interaction.”
Also, police cannot take your phone or look at its contents unless they have a warrant or you grant them permission to do so.
Exceptions to the rule
Though it’s your right to film public interactions with police, police can order you to stop recording if they find it is interfering with official duty. Additionally, if you are on private property, you must have the consent of everyone present to legally record.
If you filmed a traffic stop in Georgia and the officer ordered you to stop, confiscated your phone or deleted your videos, you may have had your rights violated. Though you should follow the orders police give you at the scene, you may want to seek legal advice to determine if your rights were violated.