Smartphones have become ubiquitous in modern society, increasing the likelihood of being caught on camera. On July 17th, 2014, a cell phone video of Staten Island police officers wrongfully killing Eric Garner reignited a national controversy on the nature of police violence, and set off a wave of citizen-surveillance through cell phones. By reviewing prior 1st and 4th Amendment court cases, I argue that citizens do indeed have a right to record on-duty police officers, and police do not have the right to conduct a warrantless search or seizure of a phone. Although a case involving citizen-surveillance of law enforcement has not yet reached the Supreme Court, based on the current balance of power as well as prior cases, it is likely that these videos would be declared a protected form of speech under the 1st Amendment.
Library of Congress Subject Headings
Video recordings--Law and legislation--United States; Smartphones--Law and legislation--United States; Police brutality--United States--Prevention
Communication and Media Technologies (MS)
Department, Program, or Center
School of Communication (CLA)
Milburn, Katherine E., "A Right to Record: An Analysis of the Legal Issues Surrounding Cell Phone Videos of Police Violence" (2017). Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology. Accessed from
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