With a cellphone in every pocket and a video camera in every cellphone, it is easier than ever for the public to obtain photographic proof of poor (or at least ill-advised) treatment by police, political candidates and even judges. Just ask the guy from the viral “Don’t Tase me, bro” video, the campaign staffer George Allen infamously nicknamed with a racial slur or the Texas teenager who secretly taped her judge father during an altercation.
Efforts by some officials to plug the dam against such embarrassing, news-cycle dominating content by invoking anti-wiretapping and other laws have unleashed a floodgate of First Amendment litigation. As a result, courts across the country have considered the question of whether the First Amendment guarantees the right to record public officials while they are on the job. The majority rule so far favors free speech, but it is anybody’s guess when local law enforcement will get the message.