PHOENIX — The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) joined with the Arizona Broadcasters Association and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona along with a group of 8 other media organizations, represented by the ACLU and Ballard Spahr LLP, filed a lawsuit against the state of Arizona and requested a preliminary injunction today challenging HB 2319, a law which makes it a crime to record police officers within eight feet of law enforcement activity without permission of the officer. The suit challenges the law as a violation of the First Amendment and seeks to stop HB 2319 from going into effect.
The constitutional right to record police engaged in official duties is one of the public’s most effective accountability tools against police wrongdoing and is one of the few ways community members and the media can hold police accountable. Over the last decade, the simple act of recording police activity has raised public awareness about police brutality and ignited movements to demand reform across the country. Arizona’s HB 2319 would directly suppress free speech rights, while also limiting public accountability and effective monitoring of government actions.
“We fear that, rather than acting as a shield to ensure ‘officer safety,’ this law will serve as a sword to abridge the ‘clearly established’ First Amendment right to video record police officers performing their official duties in public,” said National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) general counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher. “We hope the court will agree and strike down this law as unconstitutional.”
Under Arizona’s law, a person commits a crime if they film an officer engaged in law enforcement activity within eight feet if they have been warned to stop. This vests far too much power in individual officers to stop someone from recording them if they don’t want to be recorded. It also makes it nearly impossible to record police in large protests, where protesters may walk within eight feet of a line of police monitoring the protest from all sides. The NPPA wrote letters joined by over twenty press freedom groups and news organizations on three separate occasions warning Arizona legislators and the governor of the unconstitutionality of the law.
“At a time when the public is demanding police accountability, Arizona wants to criminalize the public’s most effective tool for shining a light on police violence,” said Jared Keenan, legal director of the ACLU of Arizona. “This law is not only unconstitutional, it is bad public policy.”
Every federal circuit court to consider the matter has recognized the right to record police engaged in official duties in public, including the Ninth Circuit, which covers Arizona.
“We have a right to hold police officers accountable by recording their activities in public,” said Esha Bhandari, deputy director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “Arizona’s law will prevent people from engaging in legitimate recording that doesn’t interfere with police activity, and it will suppress the reporting and advocacy that results from video evidence of police misconduct. The First Amendment does not permit that outcome.”
The plaintiffs in this case include the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA); the Arizona Broadcasters Association; the ACLU of Arizona and the following other media organizations: Phoenix Newspapers, Inc.; Gray Television; Scripps Media; KPNX (12 News); Fox Television Stations; Telemundo Arizona; States Newsroom (AZ Mirror); and the Arizona Newspapers Association.
This case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.
Mickey H. Osterreicher is the NPPA general counsel and can be reached at [email protected].