In an ACLU victory on behalf of two activists, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit Court today affirmed a federal district court’s 2019 judgment in Martin v. Rollins. The new decision confirms that the First Amendment protects the right to secretly record police officers discharging their official duties in public spaces, and it upholds the district court’s ruling that the Massachusetts “wiretap law” unconstitutionally violates that right.
Matthew Segal, legal director at the ACLU of Massachusetts, today released the following statement in response:
“The right to record the police is a critical accountability tool. Amid a nationwide reckoning with police brutality and racial injustice, the Court has affirmed the right to secretly record police performing their pubic duties.”
Jessie Rossman, staff attorney at the ACLU of Massachusetts who argued the case at the First Circuit, today released the following statement in response:
“People’s recordings of police interactions have started crucial conversations about police reform, and we all suffer when fear of retribution or prosecution stifles these movements. As the First Circuit explained, and as our clients understand, secret recording can uncover abuses and foster better police behavior, which is why today’s decision is vitally important for both free expression and police accountability.”
The ACLU of Massachusetts and Proskauer Rose LLP initially filed the lawsuit in June 2016 against the Boston Police Commissioner and Suffolk County District Attorney, defending the right to record police on behalf of two civil rights activists. The ACLU argued that the Constitution protects the right to record police officers performing their duties in public spaces regardless of the location of the recording device, which aligns with the First Amendment’s principle of uncovering police misconduct and ensuring police accountability.
A federal district court agreed, and ruled that the Massachusetts wiretap statute is unconstitutional as applied to the secret recording of police officers performing their duties in public. The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office appealed the district court’s final judgment in June 2019.
For more information about Martin v. Rollins, go to: https://www.aclum.org/en/cases/martin-v-evans