New Arizona law prohibits close-up photography of police

A new law in Arizona will soon make it illegal for passers-by to record police activity within eight feet. Civil rights activists and national press photographers condemned the act as a violation of freedom of expression.

The controversial law restricting police registration was signed into law by Republican Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on Wednesday.

The new law, which will take effect on September 24, prohibits anyone within eight feet of law enforcement from recording police activity. Violators will face a misdemeanor charge and up to thirty days in jail, but only after ignoring a verbal warning and continuing to record anyway.

The law provides some exceptions for vehicle occupants and those in enclosed structures on private property where law enforcement activities are taking place. They are allowed to film as long as they are not arrested or searched. Someone who is in a car, stopped by the police, or being questioned is also allowed to record the interaction. Unless, however, an officer determines that he is interfering with law enforcement activities or the area is deemed unsafe for civilians.

The bill was sponsored by Arizona State Representative and former police officer John Kavanagh, who writes in an op-ed for USA today that the new law aims to protect law enforcement officers from harm in the performance of their duties.

But First Amendment supporters voiced their opposition to the bill, saying it was unconstitutional in its essence, lacked specificity and gave police disproportionate discretion to enforce it. Various news outlets have signed letters from the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) opposing the bill.

Police videos of bystanders have become increasingly common and, at times, instrumental in activism that exposes police misconduct. Smartphone camera footage was instrumental in the case against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was filmed killing George Floyd and ultimately convicted of his murder.

In a statement to InitiatedThe NPPA says it is “extremely concerned that the new law not only violates the freedom of speech and press clauses of the First Amendment, but also violates the ‘clearly established right’ to photograph and record police officers performing their official duties in a public place cited by every odd court of appeals in the United States, including the Ninth Circuit.

“While these rights are not absolute, we believe that requiring ‘law enforcement officer permission’ and setting an arbitrary minimum distance of eight feet between a law enforcement officer order and the person who registers, would not survive a constitutional challenge and is completely impractical in situations like protests and demonstrations,” the association adds.

Picture credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.

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