A Republican state representative in Texas has introduced a bill that would make it illegal for private citizens to film the actions of police if they get within 25 feet of an officer.
Representative Jason Villalba of Dallas said he believes the bill is necessary and defends it by adding:
“My bill…just asks filmers to stand back a little so as not to interfere with law enforcement.”
If the bill is passed and becomes law, it would seem to fly in the face of recent court rulings on the rights of citizens to film police officers. In 2011, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the First District specifically said that the recording of law enforcement officials is a protected activity. The ruling did not address the issue of how far away such filming must be done.
Villalba does have an exception in his legislation which would allow certain members of the news media to film police activities, but the definition of who qualifies as media is narrowly drawn, as you can see from the language of the bill:
“(A) a radio or television station that holds a license issued by the Federal Communications Commission;
(B) a newspaper that is qualified under Section 2051.044, Government Code, to publish legal notices or is a free newspaper of general circulation and that is published at least once a week and available and of interest to the general public in connection with the dissemination of news or public affairs; or
(C) a magazine that appears at a regular interval, that contains stories, articles, and essays by various writers, and that is available and of interest to the general public in connection with the dissemination of news or public affairs.”.
What about a private citizen who intends to share his video with the news media? No, he or she would not be allowed to film. What about electronic/internet media or bloggers? Sorry, but you don’t qualify under Mr. Villalba’s bill, either.
In light of recent incidents which have been recorded showing police officers acting in controversial or illegal ways—think Ferguson, Missouri and the choking death of Eric Garner in New York—one cannot help but wonder if this legislation is actually intended to shield the police from any kind of oversight from the very people who pay their salaries.
Apparently, Representative Villalba is not familiar with the First Amendment. Should this bill become law, it will be up to the courts to bring the concept of free speech to his attention.
This article was originally published by the same author at LiberalAmerica.org.