Hawaii lawmakers are considering a bill to clarify the public’s right to photograph or film police officers.
The bill would make it clear that filming or photographing police in a public space isn’t against the law as long as it doesn’t prevent police from doing their jobs. The proposed law would ensure that someone filming police in public couldn’t be charged with obstructing government operations.
Taking photographs or videos of police officers is protected under the First Amendment if it’s in a public place and doesn’t interfere with law enforcements’ duties, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Despite the clarity of the law, we do continue to see incidences, unfortunately, of police officers ordering people to stop photographing them, and sometimes worse,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst for the ACLU.
Nationwide, there’s been a trend among several states to clarify the public’s right to film police. Last year, about four states including Colorado and Illinois passed new laws addressing the issue, said Richard Williams of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The Hawaii bill comes after recent incidents involving Hawaii police officers caught on camera, including during domestic violence disputes.
Hawaii Sen. Gilbert Keith-Agaran said he introduced the bill after a publisher of a Maui newspaper was arrested when he allegedly filmed a traffic stop in 2012.
“It’s the one that was real for me since I know him, we read about it for months at a time as it worked its way through the process,” Keith-Agaran said. “That’s often what happens with some legislation — a lot of the ideas don’t occur in a vacuum, they occur because something happened to somebody real.”
But the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office was against the bill, saying it could create unintended consequences that would allow people to interfere with law enforcement as long as they’re taking a video or photograph.
Meanwhile, Cpt. John McCarthy of the Honolulu Police Department said the bill was unnecessary because filming police in public is already covered under the First Amendment.
“Anyone, whether a law enforcement officer or not, can be subject to being photographed or recorded in a public setting where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy,” McCarthy said.