A Rundown of Your Rights: Recording, Filming, and Photography

In light of a recent scandal in the U.S. Marines where men were taking inappropriate photos of their female colleagues, shedding light on your actual rights regarding such activities is incredibly useful. Here are some of the specifics about recording, filming, and photographing, particularly in Arizona.

Vanyssa Haug, Editor

Many view the First Amendment to the United States Constitution – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – as an excuse to say or do whatever they want with a camera, since freedom of speech generally includes such kinds of expression.

First and foremost, it is important to know that your rights in the Constitution are protections against the government, not other people. Certain laws have, however, been incorporated to include private businesses.

Filming and Photography: The general rule of thumb is that if you are in public, you can take photos and videos of whatever you wish. Being “in public” does not mean that you are on public property, therefore the owners of the property are legally able to, at their own discretion, limit photography and filming, especially if these actions have some effect on how they operate.

Here are the basic restrictions:

  • It is illegal to film someone in a place where he or she has a reasonable expectation of privacy (including, but limited to in a bathroom [private or otherwise], locker room, or home).
  • You may not be allowed to film whilst on private property (including, but not limited to in schools, stores, shopping malls, parking lots, and homes).
  • To film someone for a commercial or advertisement, you are required to get their permission.
  • It is illegal to film, photograph, or record someone in a sexual manner without his or her permission. If the person being depicted sexually is recognizable in any way, the punishment may be even more severe.
  • It is illegal to film (audiovisual recording) inside of movie theaters.

In Arizona, violating any these restrictions on filmography and photography is a felony – not a misdemeanor.

Filming and Photographing Police Officers: The law allows you to film in public, but there is no guaranteed right to film police officers. If a police officer is in view of the public, recording him or her is not a crime. Though, if you are being arrested, you do not have the right to film the officer. Nevertheless, Arizona lawmakers have been attempting to pass laws that criminalize filming law enforcement, but no legislation has been passed at this time.

Recording Audio: When recording others, the law in Arizona is that one party must consent. So, if you wish to record your own phone conversation with another person, you may do so freely. However, you may not record other people’s conversations; eavesdropping does not make you a party to the conversation.

Inappropriate Photos and Videos: Taking inappropriate photos of another person without their consent is a class 5 felony, unless the person in the photo or video is recognizable, in which case that is a class 4 felony, especially if that person is a minor. It does not matter that you are also a minor; that is creation and possession of child pornography. If you send the photos to someone, even if it is the person of whom you took the photo, that is the distribution of child pornography.

So, if you’re in public, you should be okay; if you’re on private property and someone asks you to stop, you should stop; on the off chance that you’re being arrested, do not film or record; and finally, think twice before creating and sending certain types of media.