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I typically drive with a dashcam. Am I allowed to videotape (dashcam) when entering the United States by car, or must I stop my dashcam?

If I must stop my dashcam, what's the latest point when I need to stop the dashcam? (at the exact border, at the entrance of the queue, when the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities become visible, when the first US CBP agent becomes visible, when a US CBP agent asks me to stop it, etc.)

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    When there is a sign (as in customs/immigration in airport buildings)? Not an answer, I do not remember seeing such signs when passing the USA - Canada border.
    – Willeke
    Jul 24 at 8:18
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    You should probably specify where you're coming from - I expect enforcement will probably be a bit stricter at the Mexican border than the Canadian one. And even then, may depend on which crossing you go to. Jul 24 at 18:29
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    While travel related, I think this is probably more a Law.SE question than a travel one, as it relates to the legality of photography in general.
    – Peter M
    Jul 24 at 23:06
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    @PeterM we need meta.stackexchange.com/q/199989/178179 Jul 24 at 23:12
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    @DarrelHoffman I am interested in both Canada->US and Mexico->US. Jul 24 at 23:17

4 Answers 4

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A quick google search yields this: https://clearit.ca/canadian-customs-broker-blog/dashcam-recording-prohibited-u-s-ports-entry/ and this https://www.immigroup.com/topics/it-legal-use-dash-cam-border/ etc.

Summary: As is typical with the USBC, it's "we do whatever we want whenever we feel like it" or more politically correct: "the officer has the discretion to allow or disallow it". The legal underpinning to disallow it is this: https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/41/102-74.420 and technically you would need permission or even written permission.

Enforcement seems to be all over the place, some people got significant amount of harassment for having a dash cam, but many other people report no problem whatsoever.

It's legal and allowed on the Canadian side.

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    I have a Tesla. It continuously records video from 6 cameras with no way to turn it off (that I know of), though it forgets what it saw after 10 minutes or so if I don't manually save the video permanently. I wonder when they'll require me to duct tape the camera lenses before approaching the border?
    – Dennis
    Jul 24 at 18:55
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    @Dennis also I wonder if they could revoke your global entry or similar card because of that. Jul 24 at 19:14
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    @Dennis Stopping and duct taping the cameras - way to make yourself look more suspicious!
    – Peter M
    Jul 24 at 20:03
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    1. Why is the cited 41 CFR § 102-74.420 relevant here? It's titled "What is the policy concerning photographs for news, advertising or commercial purposes?" A personal dashcam is none of those. The other websites you linked discuss this mainly in the context of commercial truckers. Is your argument that the law's title is not part of the law, so "non-commercial" in the text means all non-commercial, not just news and advertising? ...
    – nanoman
    Jul 24 at 21:02
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    ... 2. Please clarify whether you're answering OP's "am I allowed" in the sense of "do I risk being told to turn it off (and then everything's fine if I do)", "do I risk being scrutinized more by CBP", or "do I risk being arrested and charged with violating 41 CFR § 102-74.420". 3. You don't address OP's "what's the latest point" question. Presumably it would be "when the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities become visible", if you're going by the cited law that refers to "photographs of...space occupied by a tenant agency"?
    – nanoman
    Jul 24 at 21:04
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Probably, but you may have to be prepared to litigate. Other answers here which purport to give a definite yes or a definite no are wrong.

The excellent Papers, Please! blog has a detailed writeup of a 2020 settlement between the ACLU and the DHS, in which it was agreed that

[t]he Department of Homeland Security and its components, including but not limited to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Federal Protective Service, shall not prevent, impede, or otherwise interfere with the First Amendment rights of members of the public to make and retain photographs, video recordings, or other recordings of matters or events from a Publicly Accessible Area at any land port of entry in the United States. A Publicly Accessible Area is an outdoor area at a land port of entry where a member of the public is permitted to be regardless of whether they intend to cross the United States border.

Papers, Please! adds that

We don’t mean to suggest that you don’t also have the right to record or livestream what happens to you as you cross the border. We think you do, but that hasn’t yet been litigated as extensively.

The ACLU has a form to fill out if you believe your rights under this settlement have been violated.

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Video recording outward from your dashboard or windshield, or rearward from your back window

No problem at all in the US. You are recording scenes in which noone has any expectation of privacy, specifically a public street or highway.

Audio recording the conversation that takes place inside your car?

This gets iffy very quickly. A significant portion of US states make this illegal. Check the laws in each state you plan to travel in. Helpful search terms might be "one party consent" and "two party consent" to recording a conversation.

For this reason many dash cam makers that market their products in the US make it very quick and easy to start/stop the audio recording function. I myself own Garmin front and rear cams, and I can start or stop audio recording on both cams instantly with a single button click. I do audio when I'm alone in the car, audio-off when I have passengers.

Rear facing camera mounted in the front?

This situation I really don't know about. It's extremely widespread amongst taxi drivers, fleet drivers, and ride-sharing drivers, so I assume it's legal in at least some cases. But there might be some requirement to inform passengers with a sign or something.

While crossing the border

I think it's highly unlikely that any border officer in the US would take any issue with camera(s). If they do, then of course follow their commands at the time, whether it's to unplug the cam or completely pull it off your windshield. Then you can restart the camera(s) immediately after leaving their presence. Their professional opinion of the law is frequently incorrect and won't hold water in court. But it's better to defuse the situation long before a court appearance is necessary. If they can make a case that the camera(s) is obstructing the driver's view you will likely lose that case.

Recording in restricted areas

There are some places where video recording is prohibited. Military bases. Commercial ports. Maybe also international border crossings?

I'd like to think the border crossing officers are enlightened enough to realize that any car with self driving technology is probably recording extensively and that recording cannot be stopped. Teslas do for sure, and probably also many other high end high tech cars.

Bottom line

What I would do is pop that camera off the window and throw it in the cupholder just before approaching the border. Immediately after crossing, you can pull over and put the camera back up.

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  • Thanks, good point, I should have written video+audio recording. Jul 25 at 4:29
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    The links in Hilmar's answer state that truck drivers are being hassled over cameras at border crossings.
    – Peter M
    Jul 25 at 12:31
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    You're assuming a removable camera in most of the answer including the conclusion. Many fairly ordinary cars have them built in these days Jul 25 at 14:09
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There are some states that have laws against recording people, and these laws can depend on how close you are to the person being recorded, whether you have their permission, and whether audio is being recorded. Border agents are federal employees, so they probably won't be too concerned by state laws, but they theoretically could enforce them.

I don't think there's any federal law against recording. Even if there are, there is a strong constitutional case against such laws, as well as the state laws. But from a practical perspective, even if there is no statutory/constitutional basis for the prohibition, there's a lot that CBP can do to make your life more difficult. And while the constitution does apply to non-citizens, it's more difficult for them to assert it.

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    "there's a lot that CBP can do to make your life more difficult." -> can they revoke my Global Entry card? Jul 25 at 3:21
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    The legal basis is law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/41/102-74.420 and it's certainly applied in Airports. Every immigration/customs area has signage that states that cell phone use or picture taking are prohibited. As usual, there is no consistency and enforcement is all over the place. There seem to be easing up: it's been a while since I saw someone get yelled at. However, I would not recommend trying to film a CBP officer in the booth.
    – Hilmar
    Jul 25 at 13:38
  • @FranckDernoncourt "can they revoke my Global Entry card?" - short answer is YES. Longer answer is it probably depends on a lot of factors whether they're allowed to, but I've know people who have lost theirs for a lot less (including for things that are not against the rules).
    – Midavalo
    Jul 28 at 15:40

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