Ian Patrick, FISM News
A new law in Arizona prevents civilians from recording certain “police activity” within eight feet, something that critics say will bolster the police to be overly aggressive in shutting down nearby activity that may be protected by the First Amendment.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed HB 2319 into law on Sunday, which makes it illegal to “knowingly make a video recording” within eight feet of known or suspected “law enforcement activity.” The law specifies that a person can only be charged with this crime if he or she continues to record after receiving one verbal warning to stop doing so.
Violation of the new law is listed as a Class 3 misdemeanor, which Arizona law says could include 30 days in jail, a $500 fine, and a year-long probation, according to a report from Fox News.
The law, however, does allow subjects “of police contact” to record their interaction so long as they are not interfering with what the law qualifies as “lawful police actions.” These actions include handcuffing, searching, or issuing sobriety tests.
Additionally, people in a vehicle who have been stopped by police are allowed to record the event, as long as it doesn’t interfere with similar “lawful police actions.”
Filming of police activity is also allowed on private property as long as the person filming is legally allowed to be there and police haven’t determined the area to be dangerous for bystanders. As long as there is no imminent danger as determined by the police, an eight-foot distance for filming on private property is not required.
State Republican Representative John Kavanagh, the bill’s sponsor, said the law is intended to protect officers from people who “either have very poor judgment or sinister motives.”
“It promotes everybody’s safety yet still allows people to reasonably videotape police activity as is their right,” Kavanagh said about the law.
Others, such as staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona K.M. Bell, say the law doesn’t work in a practical manner.
“We’re talking about people being in public and a place they have a right to be. We’re not talking about, like somebody breaking into the [National Security Agency],” Bell said.
The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) drafted a joint letter with multiple other media associations and organizations in opposition to the new law. In their letter, the NPPA said the law’s wording made it seem as though it was encroaching on First Amendment rights to freedom of the press.
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.
The issuing of the new law has some critics drawing comparisons to past uses of civilian phone recordings, such as the murder of George Floyd in 2020. The law also comes at a time when the United States Department of Justice has investigated police forces in Minneapolis and Phoenix for police brutality and use of excessive force.
Rep. Kavanagh states that the law is simply a way to protect officers amidst ambushes and recordings from anti-police groups who often impede the officers’ duties.
Police have been heavily targeted in the past two years. Even earlier this year, FBI Director Christopher Wray told 60 Minutes that the ambushing and murdering of police “is one of the biggest phenomena that I think doesn’t get enough attention.”