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Is Secretly Recording Police Officers Allowed in Massachusetts?

Over the course of the last few years, reports of police officers who have abused their authority or used excessive force have skyrocketed. In large part, this increase is due to the prevalence of social media in today’s society as well as the fact that most people have a cell phone that contains a camera. But this raises the question of whether it is legal to record police officers.

Openly recording police officers has long been a protected right, so long as doing so does not interfere with an officer’s ability to carry out their official duties. However, under the Massachusetts wiretapping statute, the secret recording of police officers has been prohibited until recently when a federal judge issued a ruling protecting citizens’ right to record police secretly.

Massachusetts Judge Holds First Amendment Protects Those Who Secretly Record Police Officers

Earlier this month, a federal appellate court handed down an important decision upholding a citizen’s right to secretly record law enforcement officials. The decision was based on the citizens’ rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. According to a news report covering the recent opinion, the court issued the opinion after consolidating two cases. The first case involved two Boston activists who regularly openly recorded police interactions with the public.

The two activists claimed that they should be able to secretly record police because this “would both protect their safety and more accurately document police behavior.” However, the activists were afraid to do so based on a “credible fear of arrest and prosecution under the state’s wiretapping statute.”

Indeed, prior to the court’s ruling, the Massachusetts Wiretapping Act made the secret recording of police officers a crime. The government argued that the wiretapping statute protected individuals and police by requiring someone to be informed before they are recorded. However, the court explained that a citizen’s First Amendment rights require they be permitted to secretly record police officers, subject to “reasonable time, manner, and place restrictions.”

The court did not elaborate on what limitations might be placed on a citizen’s right to record police officers. However, it is likely that the secret recording of police would not be protected if it interfered with the officer’s ability to arrest or interview a suspect, or conduct some other official duty. However, secretly recording officers will no longer be presumed to be illegal.

With the new ruling, many other types of cases may be impacted. For example, police would no longer have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to search someone who they found to be secretly recording their activities. This may result in a court granting a motion to suppress evidence found as a result of an illegal search.

Have You Been Arrested after Filming the Police?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a crime after police discovered that you were filming them or otherwise documenting their activities, contact Attorney Patrick J. Murphy. Patrick J. Murphy is a dedicated Massachusetts criminal defense attorney with extensive experience standing up for the constitutional rights of his clients. To learn more about how Attorney Murphy can help you defend against the charges you are currently facing, call 617-367-0450 to schedule a free consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Court Condones Officer’s Approach and Questioning of Motorist Based on “Community Caretaking” Function of Police, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 12, 2018

Court Suppresses Evidence Found During Police Officer’s Search That Was Conducted Before a Warrant Was Issued, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published November 21, 2018