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Federal appeals court upholds First Amendment right to film police

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that citizens have a First Amendment right to record police performing their duties. The court found that officers, "are public officials carrying out public functions, and the First Amendment requires them to bear bystanders recording their actions. This is vital to promote the access that fosters free discussion of governmental actions." The court was clear that this case was based on a First Amendment right to access of information about how public servants operate in the public realm. This decision follows the rulings by the First, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits. Even with the ruling in favor of the First Amendment argument, two of the three judges ruled that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity, effectively shielding them from liability over the incidents.

Trust between communities throughout the US and police officials continues to be an issue, particularly after a series of incidents have led to demand for higher accountability from the public servants. The interactions have created dialogues in communities in an attempt to create a greater trust between members of the public and law enforcement. In April the Department of Justice raised doubts [JURIST report] about a police reform agreement reached in the city of Baltimore. In June rights group decided that they wanted police reform and through a lawsuit [JURIST report] attempted to bring about the change and accountability over the Chicago police enforcement practices.

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