I have seen some YouTube videos where police in the US doesn't behave in the best of ways, but citizens are allowed to film them "for their own protection" and it helps having evidence if something escalates.

I will be travelling with my family soon to the US and I won't be recording cops for no reason, but in the case they stop me or something weird starts to happen with a cop, can I film them?

  • 2
    I don't know the laws, but you might want to specify which states in case it matters, and ask about Germany in a separate question.
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 0:03
  • (the reason I mention Germany is that asking what is essentially multiple questions in one often gets your q closed on here - see the help center for more details. But splitting it into two will be fine.)
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 0:04
  • You'll need to localize your visit. There are Federal, State, Municipality, City, County and many other levels of laws in the US.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 3:14
  • Have removed germany from description to make more appropriate and to allow the answers to actually match. Will need to ask separately if required.
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 4:39
  • 1
    @CGCampbell I imagine the right to film police is protected by the US constitution, in which case it did not matter where one travels.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 5:53

5 Answers 5


Legally, probably. Sounds iffy, but that's the state of the law at present - it's evolving and is 'iffy'. A US Appeals Court has determined that this is protected by First Amendment Rights, and that:

"It is clearly established in this circuit that police officers cannot, consistently with the Constitution, prosecute citizens for violating wiretapping laws when they peacefully record a police officer performing his or her official duties in a public area," the appeals court said.

The ACLU has published Rights for Photographers and states that:

When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view. That includes pictures of federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police. Such photography is a form of public oversight over the government and is important in a free society.

and in regards to your camera/phone:

Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your digital photographs or video without a warrant. The Supreme Court has ruled that police may not search your cell phone when they arrest you, unless they get a warrant. Although the court did not specifically rule on whether law enforcement may search other electronic devices such as a standalone camera, the ACLU believes that the constitution broadly prevents warrantless searches of your digital data.

The Huffington Post has an article - It's Perfectly Legal To Film The Cops which confirms that it's legal in all 50 states:

“There’s no law anywhere in the United States that prohibits people from recording the police on the street, in a park, or any other place where the public is generally allowed,” Osterreicher said.

However, conflicting state laws might still find you in hot water - they might go after you with another sneaky rule, for example, from the same article, according to Massachusetts law, citizens are permitted to record police officers in public, but only if the police have been informed that a recording is taking place. You're more likely to run into problems if your recording interferes with police business, or if you're being a nuisance.

So if in doubt - ask the officers that you're filming first, and avoid the complications of offense, arrest and trial (if not worse) if possible.


There is no law against filming police in action, anywhere in the USA that I am aware of. But to be honest, sticking your cellphone in the officers face to record what he says will likely not earn you any leniency. So don't be surprised if you get a ticket and not a warning.

Police as a whole in the USA are fine but stern. Officers that act like what you see on YuckTube are a minority and you would be hard pressed to find a police force anywhere in the world without a few bad apples.

One drawback to social media is that incidents get blown up to blanket accusations against all, when they should be viewed as individual acts. Story telling in days of old had similar results, as a story was told by subsequent people it became more fabulous or more dastardly. Back then it took years for stories to become legends, now with social media it takes hours. But the end result is the same, the legend doesn't really reflect the act.

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    @CGCampbell - Which jurisdictions? Name & shame those cities, but also because it is essential information for the OP's questions.
    – user13044
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 4:00
  • @CGCampbell These routinely get thrown out of court. Doesn't stop them trying it, though the civil suits have done a better job of that. Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 4:34
  • Tom, you are, of course, more than welcome to roll back my edits as you did. I would just point out that the reason I edited it was to be able to remove my down vote, which I could not do unless the answer was edited. In addition, I have removed all of my comments in this question. It seems as if my concerns were not shared by anyone.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 15:14
  • Note that police aren't lawyers, and aren't always hip to the latest developments in civil liberties jurisprudence.
    – choster
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 15:23
  • @CGCampbell - Editing is one things I don't like about this forum. While I can accept a spelling correction or in my case a lack of an apostrophe in officers, I am not fond of having verbiage changed, such as "but to be..." changed to "to be...". We each express ourselves slightly differently and people need to accept those differences.
    – user13044
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 4:00

You have the right to film police, although police do not always agree. Relevant article. Note that most Constitutional rights apply to everyone in the country, not just citizens. That is, you can't be tried twice for the same offense just because you are a tourist. (Disclaimer 1: You can be tried for essentially the same offense in one State court and Federal court; Disclaimer 2: IANAL)


Legally, yes, as others have explained.

Practically, it's not a good idea. US citizens are routinely arrested for filming police actions (even though most are never convicted or even indicted) and their videos confiscated. Since you're a non-citizen, having an arrest record in the US will likely make you ineligible to enter the US again.

Whether that's worth the risk is something only you can decide.


Taking silent film or still photos:
As far as I know, there are no laws prohibiting you taking still photos or silent films of police officers in public lands or roads. In private places (including museums, libraries or schools) the owner of the property or related authorities may have their own rules, for instance, stores prohibiting taking photos of their employees, or an airport prohibiting photo taking at security checkpoint.

However, a police officer in public places has the right to order you (citizen or not) to stop taking photos or films when he/she believes that you are interfering their job. Even if you believe it's not the case, you should never resist his/her order or try to run away from the scene.

Recording audio or films containing audio:
In some states, recording audio (or a film with audio) of police officers may not be legal. Also keep in mind that photos/films legally taken may not be legally published online.

  • 4
    So you're saying you don't actually know? Neither does the OP, which is why they're trying to find out. "may not be legal" or "as far as user12075 on some website knows" probably won't help then if they find themselves in trouble :/
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 4:41
  • I have made it clear that taking a silent film or still photos is legal, but taking a film with audio or recording audio may not. Don't you understand?
    – user12075
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 5:47
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    @user12075 Actually you haven't. As far as I know, there are no laws prohibiting... In some states...may not be legal. Any source and details? Until now, it sounds like "in my opinion: maybe".
    – deviantfan
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 7:26
  • @deviantfan Sorry for the confusion but I use the term “as far as I know“ because I can't read all the laws and codes in the US to conclude that "there are no laws prohibiting". For the audio recording part, as others mentioned, that dependents on different states and cities. For instance, in IL it's illegal: huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/10/…
    – user12075
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 7:43
  • +1 given the uncertainties and potential special cases mentioned by others I don't know why people are beating up this answer. (s)he made the point " ... silent ..." which many others haven't. In some situations people will try to invoke wiretapping laws re the AUDIO part of videos - on the argument that audio is not protected by 1st amendment rights - I got that from an ACLU page about 2 days ago. No, I do not have a reference. Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 12:22

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