Federal Court Says Massachusetts' Wiretap Law Can't Be Used To Arrest People For Recording Public Officials
from the because-duh-this-was-decided-seven-years-ago dept
Seven years ago, the First Circuit Court of Appeals released its Glik decision. This decision found that recording public officials was protected by the First Amendment, overriding Massachusetts state law. The state wiretap law says recordings must have consent of everyone captured on the recording. The Appeals Court said recording police officers while they performed their duties in public was clearly covered by the First Amendment. The opinion also dealt with some ancillary Fourth Amendment issues, but seemingly made it clear these recordings were protected activity.
The law remained on the books unaltered. Thanks to legislative inaction, the law is still capable of being abused. Since the Appeals Court didn’t declare the law unconstitutional, or even this application of it, it has taken another federal court decision nearly a decade later to straighten this out. (h/t Courthouse News Service)
The ruling [PDF] deals with two First Amendment cases. One deals with activists recording cops. The other deals with another set of activists — James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas — and its secret recording of Democratic politicians. The specifics might be a bit different, but the outcome is the same: recording public officials is protected by the First Amendment. The state law is unconstitutional.
Consistent with the language of Glik, the Court holds that Section 99 may not constitutionally prohibit the secret audio recording of government officials, including law enforcement officials, performing their duties in public spaces, subject to reasonable time, manner, and place restrictions.
That just reiterates Glik’s findings. The Massachusetts federal court goes further, though:
The Court declares Section 99 unconstitutional insofar as it prohibits audio recording of government officials, including law enforcement officers, performing their duties in public spaces, subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. The Court will issue a corresponding injunction against the defendants in these actions.
The court also points out the state government’s response to the Glik ruling was wrong. The ruling did not limit itself to “openly” recording public officials. It said the First Amendment protected the recording of public officials performing public duties whether or not government officials knew they were being recorded.
In October 2011, the bulletin was accompanied by a memo from the Commissioner citing the Glik decision. The memo instructs officers that “public and open recording of police officers by a civilian is not a violation” of Section 99. The cover memo for the May 2015 recirculation “remind[s] all officers that civilians have a First Amendment right to publicly and openly record officers while in the course of their duties.”
But Glik did not clearly restrict itself to open recording. Rather, it held that the First Amendment provides a “right to film government officials or matters of public interest in public space.”
The court says siding with the government’s interpretation would just result in more bogus arrests under the state’s wiretap law.
But the training materials go beyond telling officers when it is impermissible to arrest; taking a narrow construction of Glik, they also communicate that it is permissible to arrest for secretly audiorecording the police under all circumstances. In other words, it gives the green light to arrests that, as the Court holds below, are barred by Glik.
This ruling should put an end to that. You’d think the last ruling would have done the job, but despite the Appeals Court never ruling that secret recordings of public officials were illegal, the state decided to interpret the decision this way, leading directly to the lawsuits requiring the record to be set one more time, seven years down the road.