Arizona moves to restrict recordings of police with unconstitutional proposal

Parker Higgins

Advocacy Director

An aerial view of downtown Phoenix features the Arizona State Capitol and the House and Senate buildings on either side.

Carol Highsmith

A misguided Arizona bill would make it illegal to take photos or video of the police in certain circumstances, running directly against long-established constitutional protections for such recordings. Freedom of the Press Foundation has joined a coalition of two dozen media and press freedom groups opposing the proposal in a letter embedded below.

The house version of the bill, HB 2319, passed through the legislature's Appropriations Committee on Tuesday and through the full House on Thursday, despite its straightforward First Amendment problems. The House vote came down on party lines, with the body's Republican majority giving approval.

The original proposal would have rendered illegal recordings of police made without permission within 15 feet of an officer; as passed in the House, the limit is eight feet. Either limit is likely unconstitutional, as we explain in the letter:

We are extremely concerned that this language violates not only the free speech and press clauses of the First Amendment, but also runs counter to the “clearly established right” to photograph and record police officers performing their official duties in a public place, cited by all the odd-numbered U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal including the Ninth Circuit. ... It is clear from well-established jurisprudence regarding this matter that officers performing their official duties in a public place do not have any reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to being recorded and therefore taking enforcement action against someone who “fails to comply with a verbal warning of a violation of this section” is both impermissible and unconstitutional.

Nevertheless, the proposal now proceeds to the state Senate. We urge the lawmakers in that body to treat the Constitution and its press freedom guarantees with more respect than their colleagues in the House.

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