Often, when it comes to encounters with the law, we default to feelings of intimidation and choose to comply with officers in order to avoid possibly escalating a situation.
However, knowing police powers and our own rights can be the difference between guilty or not guilty, life or death.
We’ve all heard horror stories about dealing with aggressive, arrogant and blatantly unjust police officers, but how can we believe the accuracy of these tales without any proof?
Imagine an instance wherein you are pulled over on the road and harassed by officers for no given reason, or maybe as a bystander you witness some seriously illegal police brutality – what do you do? For many of us, pulling out our phones and recording officers is the last thing we would think of or want to do in such a situation, but maybe we should.
Tangible proof of an incident can be used as evidence to back-up a lodged complaint, defend someone in court and most importantly, hold police officers accountable for their actions.
So let’s find out about the legal rights we hold to film police officers and if they can actually stop us from recording them.
Are you allowed to film police in Australia?
In Australia, we are legally entitled to video or take photos of police officers who are observable from public spaces or privately owned property with the owner’s consent. This means that in general, police do not have the power to stop us from filming or taking photos; they cannot take away our recording devices and they cannot ask us to or delete any footage themselves.
However, there are, as always, exceptions to the rules. We can only film police on the condition that we obey all other laws and that our recordings do not interfere with police operations.
Police can legally prevent us from filming if they are undertaking covert operations or if there is a legitimate safety issue. In such circumstances, we may be asked to ‘move on’ if police have reason to justify that we are disturbing the peace, that we could likely cause harm to a person (including yourself), public safety or property. If we refuse to ‘move on’, we may be committing an offence by obstructing police duties without a lawful excuse.
Moreover, if it is believed that we have indeed captured a serious crime, police can also confiscate our recording device to be used as evidence. Although they cannot forcibly obtain the device, failure to comply to having the device seized can result in a charge. If police do confiscate your device, a receipt must be issued to you and they must have a valid reason for the seizure otherwise they could be liable for prosecution for assault or trespass to your person.
It is also important to have knowledge of the specific privacy laws pertaining to your state or territory. In some states obtaining audio in a video recording such as an officer’s phone conversation, may be considered illegal.
To conclude, it is not correct for a police officer to tell you that you cannot film or photograph them IF you are complying with all other laws and regulations.
If you are unrightfully told this, respond by simply stating that you are in a public space and you have the legal right to film. However, try not to be domineering or aggressive when filming an officer as you do not want to end up being the star of someone else’s video!