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Know Your Rights When Filming Police


The First Amendment protects your right to assemble and express your views through protest. However, police and other government officials are allowed to place certain narrow restrictions on the exercise of speech rights. Make sure you’re prepared by brushing up on your rights before heading out into the streets.

This KYR is not a replacement for legal advice.

Your Rights to Film
  • When you are lawfully present in any public space, you have the right to document, including to photograph or record, anything in plain view, including government buildings and the police. (On private property, the owner may set rules about photography or video.)
  • New York explicitly protects this right in state law, providing that people have the right to document police activity free from police interference and to sue for any violations of this right.
  • Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant, nor may they delete data under any circumstances. However, they may order you to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations.
What to do if you are stopped or detained for taking documenting police activity
  • Always remain calm and never physically resist a police officer.
  • Police cannot detain you without reasonable suspicion that you have or are about to commit a crime or are in the process of doing so.
  • If you are stopped, ask the officer if you are free to leave. If the answer is yes, calmly walk away.
  • If you are detained, you do not have to answer an officer’s questions, and you should tell the officer, “I would like to remain silent.” You never
  • have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings, and if an officer tries to search you or your property, you should say, “I do not consent to this search.”
  • If you are using a phone to document police activity, it’s a good idea to have a strong password on the device. Even if police seize your phone, they cannot legally access its contents without a warrant.
What to do if you believe your rights have been violated
  • When you can, write down everything you remember, including the officers’ badge and patrol car numbers and the agency they work for.
  • Get contact information for witnesses.
  • Take photographs of any injuries.
  • Once you have all of this information, you can file a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board. You can also contact the NYCLU.
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Civil Liberties Union