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ACLU sues Arizona over new law that restricts how citizens are allowed to film police

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Arizona on Tuesday over a new law restricting the filming of police. The ACLU claims the law is "a blatant attempt to gut First Amendment protections."

The plaintiffs in the case are urging the court to immediately prevent the restrictions from going into effect.

What is HB2319?

On July 6, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed House Bill 2319, which – starting in September – will make it illegal for an individual to "knowingly make a video recording of law enforcement activity if the person making the video recording is within eight feet of where the person knows or reasonably should know that law enforcement activity is occurring."

The act includes exceptions to the eight-foot rule. For example, if a person is recording an officer on private property, they may record from within eight feet, as long as they are not directly interfering with police activity.

Additionally, if the person recording is "the subject of police contact," they may record the interaction with the officer as long as they are "not interfering with lawful police actions, including searching, handcuffing or administering a field sobriety test." The law protects citizens subject to a traffic stop, stating that they "may record the encounter."

Under Arizona's HB2319, an officer must first provide a verbal warning to the person filming. At that point, the person recording can either continue filming from more than eight feet away or stop filming altogether.

Persons found to be in violation of this new ordinance can be charged with a class three misdemeanor. Arizona law states that a class three misdemeanor is considered the least severe and can result in a maximum of 30 days in jail but will likely only result in a fine.

What is the ACLU saying about HB2319?

The ACLU's Arizona chapter joined several other non-profit organizations and news outlets in the lawsuit against Arizona.

A blog article from the ACLU stated the act prevents "people from exercising their constitutional right to record." It accused the law of containing "toothless exceptions" regarding the eight-foot rule, stating that officers could override each exception if they decided that the individual recording interferes with law enforcement activity.

The ACLU article read, "This law is a violation of a vital constitutional right and will severely thwart attempts to build police accountability. It must be struck down before it creates irreparable community harm."

According to Courthouse News Service, legal director at ACLU of Arizona Jared Keenan stated, "At a time when the public is demanding police accountability, Arizona wants to criminalize the public's most effective tool for shining a light on police violence."

The news organization plaintiffs in the case are concerned that the law will make it almost impossible for journalists to record footage at crowded events, such as protests. The lawsuit stated, "For example, if a reporter is in a crowd taking video of a protest, and a police officer walks towards the reporter and breaches the eight-foot distance while the reporter is unable to move further away in the crowd, that reporter might be arrested for violating HB2319."

Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, stated, "We fear that, rather than acting as a shield to ensure 'officer safety,' this law will serve as a sword to abridge the 'clearly established' First Amendment right to video record police officers performing their official duties in public."

According to the Associated Press, all named defendants in the case either could not be reached or declined to comment on the litigation.

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