The Connecticut Senate passed a bill last week that allows citizens to record police officers, so long as the police officers in question don’t object to being recorded.
Bill 245, which passed 24-11 last Thursday in Connecticut’s Democrat-controlled senate, has two distinct parts: Section 1(b) lays out protections and recourse for citizens who want to record police; Section 1(c) gives police several excuses to interfere with citizen photographers without penalty.
Section 1(b) reads:
“A peace officer who interferes with any person taking a photographic or digital still or video image of such peace officer or another peace officer acting in the performance of such peace officer's duties shall, subject to sections 5-141d, 7-465 and 29-8a of the general statutes, be liable to such person in an action at law, suit in equity or other proper proceeding for redress.”
Section 1(c) reads:
“A peace officer shall not be liable under subsection (b) of this section if the peace officer had reasonable grounds to believe that the peace officer was interfering with the taking of such image in order to (1) lawfully enforce a criminal law of this state or a municipal ordinance, (2) protect the public safety, (3) preserve the integrity of a crime scene or criminal investigation, (4) safeguard the privacy interests of any person, including a victim of a crime, or (5) lawfully enforce court rules and policies of the Judicial Branch with respect to taking a photograph, videotaping or otherwise recording an image in facilities of the Judicial Branch.”
While Republicans who voted against the bill said it would expose Connecticut cops to frivolous lawsuits, this legislation couldn’t be more protective of police if it was written by the cops themselves.
The standard for interference is based on “reasonable grounds to believe” that filming would jeopardize public safety, violate privacy, or conflict with other laws. What are reasonable grounds? The bill doesn't say. How could recording a police officer beating the snot out of some poor perp jeopardize "public safety"? The bill doesn't say. When it comes to protecting privacy, who counts among "any person"? The bill doesn't say.
Because the bill doesn't exclude police, it's conceivable that a cop could stop a recording to protect his or her own privacy. Because the bill doesn't distinguish between preemptively protecting a person's privacy versus doing so at a person's request, it's conceivable an officer could stop a citizen from recording an arrest on the grounds that the recording would violate a suspect's privacy. (For more information on how police, prosecutors, and even judges abuse privacy to keep from having their public shenanigans recorded for posterity, see Radley Balko's 2011 Reason story The War on Cameras.)