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Civil rights group to appeal U.S. judge’s ruling on filming police

Using phones and cameras to record police making arrests or controlling crowds has become the primary way to ensure officers are held responsible

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A civil liberties group said on Thursday it would appeal a ruling by a federal judge in Philadelphia that the U.S. Constitution only protects a person’s right to videotape police activity when the images are intended to send a message.

Using phones and cameras to record police making arrests or controlling crowds has become the primary way to ensure officers are held responsible for possible misconduct, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania said.

“The ability to criticize and hold accountable our public officials is critical to the First Amendment,” Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director of the state’s chapter of the ACLU, said in a phone interview.

In an opinion released last Friday, U.S. District Judge Mark Kearney said taping or photographing police in public only enjoyed First Amendment protection when it was clearly intended to convey a message, such as criticizing the police.

“We find there is no First Amendment right under our governing law to observe and record police officers absent some other expressive conduct,” he wrote.

Videotaping police officers has become a key tool for civil rights activists in recent years, fueling public outrage over the fatal police shooting of Tamir Rice in Cleveland and the chokehold death of Eric Garner on New York’s Staten Island, among other cases.

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