A new law was recently passed in Arizona. HB 2319 prohibits anyone, in most instances, from making a video recording within eight feet of “police activity.” While most areas of the country appear to be concentrating on transparency in police operations, Arizona seeks to limit what we always assumed were rights protected under the First Amendment.
The ACLU has already filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new law, and last week a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction to stop the law from going into effect later this month. Interestingly, both the Arizona Attorney General and Maricopa County have advised the court that they have no interest in defending the law or intervening in the case.
Some say that video recordings have been the best tool available to make law enforcement accountable for violence against people they are sworn to protect. By attempting to restrict the right to record police activity, the argument continues, the law seems like a step backward in that regard. One lawmaker who supports the legislation said that the new law was necessary to protect the police from people with poor judgment and “sinister motives.”
An interesting aspect of the new law – apart from the various First Amendment problems it raises – has to do with its definition of “police activity.” The act says that such activity includes when police are “questioning a suspicious person.” These and similar issues of interpretation create, at best, confusion for reporters covering a news item involving active law enforcement operations. It is noteworthy, in that regard, that the legislation makes no distinction between recordings by private individuals, neighbors, and bystanders, on the one hand, and journalists and reporters, on the other.
We’ll keep an eye on this case as it continues through the federal courts.
Law Offices of David A. Black
40 North Central Avenue #1850
Phoenix, AZ 85004