In July 2010, Jerome Vorus was walking through the streets of Georgetown in Washington, D.C. and came across a routine traffic stop. He pulled out his camera and decided to snap a few pictures to add to his photo collection. Before he knew it, he was detained for 30 minutes and questioned by the police — even though he was standing on public property.
Vorus went home and wrote a blog post on his ordeal. A member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) saw it and got involved.
Two years later, the lawsuit Vorus eventually filed is now settled with a six-page general order that states, “A bystander has the right under the First Amendment to observe and record members in the public discharge of their duties” and a directive finally acknowledging filming the DC police is not a crime.
Police are now directed to leave photographers and those with video cameras alone. They can remove a person from an area if they are conducting official police business, but they cannot tell them to stop filming. They cannot confiscate their camera, attempt to block it, or demand a person’s identification and detain that person. Rights were also extended from the media to citizens.
Furthermore, if the police believe an individual captured footage that could be used as evidence, they cannot simply take it from them at that time. Instead, they have to ask the person to send it to them, as the Washington Post explains. If the person denies the request, they must seek a warrant.
Vorus said of the outcome, “I was glad I was instrumental along with the ACLU in making these changes because this is a victory for photographers in this city and hopefully all around the country.”
This is definitely a big win for civil liberties.