Connecticut is considering a bill that would make any police officer "who interferes with a person taking a photographic or digital still or video image" of a police officer performing his or her duties liable for damages, provided the citizen did not obstruct or hinder the police officer's performance. It appears to be the first time such a bill has been considered by a state legislature.
The bill's introduction is in response to two incidents in the state within the past few years. In March 2009, an East Haven police officer arrested a priest for taping the officer's questioning of a store owner. Last October, numerous Yale University students were threatened, and some arrested, by New Haven police for taking photographs during a club raid.
If the bill is passed and signed into law, Connecticut would be the first state to enact a law to explicitly recognize the rights of citizens to record police actions and make police liable for violating that right.
David McGuire, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, explained that the ACLU is interested in "memorializing people's right to record the police under the First Amendment."
McGuire noted the recent police activities that encouraged the creation of this bill. "Common sense shows it's going to continue to be an issue because of the prevalence of cell phones with cameras and their ability to upload things to the Internet quickly," he said.
The ACLU of Illinois is challenging a recent federal court ruling that the First Amendment does not guarantee a right to record police officers engaged in their public duties and, as such, use of the Illinois Eavesdropping Act to arrest citizens recording police activity is not unconstitutional. The case, ACLU v. Alvarez, has been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago (7th Cir.) and is one of many to legally challenge the criminalization of citizen recordings of police conduct.
Connecticut Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, who introduced the bill and testified in its favor, could not be reached for comment; nor could a representative of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, an organization opposed to the bill.