PHILADELPHIA – A federal district court has ruled that videotaping police is not necessarily protected by the First Amendment.

In dismissing two cases brought by people who had been physically restrained by Philadelphia Police officers for videotaping them, Judge Mark Kearney said that without a clearly stated purpose, such as gathering news, the First Amendment doesn’t apply.

Molly Tack-Hooper, an attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, says Kearney got it wrong.

“We believe that photographing the police when they are performing their duties in public is actually at the core of what the First Amendment is supposed to protect,” she states.

One of the people detained was a trained police observer filming a protest. The ACLU plans to appeal the ruling.

Tack-Hooper points out that video of police activities taken by non-journalists has played a major role in efforts to curb abuse of authority and hold police accountable.

“But it can also be a neutral act that deters police misconduct,” she stresses. “Having more cameras helps keep everyone honest.”

Tack-Hooper says Kearney’s ruling runs counter to a number of rulings in other federal courts.

“The Federal Appeals Courts for the areas that cover Chicago, Boston and Atlanta have all gone the other way, as well as many lower courts,” she points out.

The Philadelphia cases will now go to the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Andrea Sears