Is videorecording a traffic stop legal?
November 18, 2012 7:46 PM   Subscribe

I was pulled over for a speeding ticket in a construction zone in Indiana today...

There was a cameraman with the state police officer video-recording our conversation, my car, the highway, etc. I was not asked if this was okay, but I was thrown off by having just been pulled over so I didn't have the nerve to ask about it. Now I'm starting to worry where that might end up (Driver's training video? Traffic court if I contest?). I'm not finding anything on google. Is it normal for the state police to have someone with them taking handheld video?
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total)
It's not usual. I've been pulled over many times (don't ask why) and never had anyone have a camera with them. One time there were two officers together, one older seasoned looking officer and a younger one who seemed to be learning the ropes - maybe this was a similar sort of thing?
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:12 PM on November 18, 2012

It's legal; there's no expectation of privacy in public. I've never heard of this happening though, it's usually the citizen filming the officer.
posted by rhizome at 8:20 PM on November 18, 2012

Is it possible the cameraman was not a police officer?
posted by andoatnp at 8:49 PM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not a lawyer; Regardless of how common it is, I don't imagine it's illegal. As rhizome says, you don't have an expectation of privacy in public — you could just-as-legally film anyone doing anything as long as you're doing it from a public place.

There have been efforts to criminalize the reverse — citizens recording police — but those have been generally found to be unconstitutional. These are usually passed as "eavesdropping" laws, but most eavesdropping laws are based on some expectation of privacy.
posted by brentajones at 9:10 PM on November 18, 2012

I'm not a lawyer but 99% sure this:

It's legal; there's no expectation of privacy in public.

is not correct in the least. There is no expectation of not being filmed/photographed in the background as you walk down the street. That is not even in the same galaxy as a situation where a police officer has detained you against your will and is asking you questions you must answer on pain of being arrested. Even FOX's pro-cop propaganda show famously blurs the faces of those who did not consent to be featured.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:12 PM on November 18, 2012

Which is to say that while it *might* be legal for them to film you for say, an internal training exercise, it's dubious at best. Broadcasting it on TV without your consent would almost certainly cross the line.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:14 PM on November 18, 2012

I have no idea what the law is in Indiana, but here's a couple of similar guidelines for Oregon, for what it's worth.

1) It IS illegal to make a recording of someone without their consent. Doesn't matter if it's "in public".

2) The police have a couple of exceptions to the recording law, including recording done by their squad-car mounted camera and microphone. However, there is a general requirement that cops are supposed to inform the citizen they're being recorded, if it's practical to do so.

3) This "expectation of privacy" phrase being bandied about in this thread is commonly used to refer to one's constitutional rights (usually under the Fourth Amendment) against unreasonable search and seizure. It has to do with things like bags in public places, conversations in phone booths, that sort of thing. You can't really reverse-engineer it to come up with a rationale of why you can record someone.

This is not legal advice. I am not your lawyer.
posted by Happydaz at 9:28 PM on November 18, 2012

Nope, pretty much the only exceptions will be for commercial purposes (Fox) and whether it's a two-party (or all-party) notification state. Indiana is not a two-party state, not to mention that wiretapping laws can often be worked around by not recording audio, since the laws derive from telephone surveillance.

But like I said, it's highly unusual for a cop to have a video sidekick in human form like this. I follow this topic somewhat and this is the first time I've heard of anything more than a dash or lapel camera on the officer-side. Frankly, I was thinking this might be a liability thing for the cop, like maybe he did something wrong once so his judgement is being supervised. It could also be for training, but that would be arguably commercial. I'm sure you could FOIA (or ask the judge if you go to court) the use it's being put.
posted by rhizome at 10:22 PM on November 18, 2012

It IS illegal to make a recording of someone without their consent.

Not as far as I know. Got a code cite for that? I'm aware of no federal statute to that effect. As far as I know, you can legally record people in public places in most states. The only exceptions are that you can't take naked pictures, and you can't record people in places like restrooms. But there is no generally applicable law against recording images of people in public places. Not as far as I can tell anyway.

The police have a couple of exceptions to the recording law

What recording law?

there is a general requirement that cops are supposed to inform the citizen they're being recorded


Maybe the law is different where you are, but the legal environment you describe does not obtain in Indiana. I'm not actually sure it obtains anywhere.
posted by valkyryn at 3:26 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, and the one- and two-party consent states? Generally only applies to the interception and/or recording of electronic communications. Taping people's phone calls can be dicey, but recording them in a public place isn't something to which the law applies.
posted by valkyryn at 3:27 AM on November 19, 2012

I can't see how this is different from the cameras they have installed in the car, which is very common, except that you are less aware of being filmed. Now police departments are attaching video cameras to their clothes and glasses. Clay County, Indiana, Sheriff's Department installed dash cameras four years ago.

With the dash cameras, they use the film in case something goes surprising (like, they pull someone over and they run, or throw something out of the window, or attack the officer). Also, it protects the person being pulled over, since the camera is running the whole time you are pulled over -- no longer a he-said, she-said situation with only the officer's written notes. They are also used for training, and homeland security initiatives. Despite the homeland security thing, dash cams are popular among the public (not just law enforcement) because it protects both parties. I believe you can ask to see your videotape, especially if you are in court over something that happened while you were pulled over.
posted by Houstonian at 4:28 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Call the Highway Patrol or County or Municipality and ask about it.

I'm with Houstonian, it's a way to protect everyone. Traffic stops are pretty dangerous for police officers.

I saw on one show that they usualy put a thumb print on the trunk of any car they pull over, in case anything happens, that print will prove that the police officer had pulled the guy over.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:58 AM on November 19, 2012

Valkyryn, I was talking about a law in Oregon for illustrative purposes only. But since you apparently think I'm bullshitting, here's the Oregon statute in question: ORS 165.540(1)(c). Law enforcement exception is at 165.540(5)(c).
posted by Happydaz at 8:47 AM on November 19, 2012

You're misreading the law. That pertains only to recording conversations. So yes, subsection 1(c) would seem to prohibit that even if the two people in question were in public.

But I would argue that it is not a categorical prohibition from taping people. The prohibition is specifically directed at obtaining the contents of their communications and conversations. A recording which doesn't really do that isn't going to count. Or at least it shouldn't.

Regardless, that is the single most expansive recording law I've ever seen. Which figures, given Oregon, but I still think you're misreading it.
posted by valkyryn at 5:37 PM on November 19, 2012

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