The governor of Arizona has signed a measure into law that makes it illegal for people to record videos within eight feet of police activity, limiting efforts to increase transparency around law enforcement operations.
The law, signed by Gov. Doug Ducey on Wednesday, goes into effect in September. Many civil rights groups and news media organizations have criticized the measure, which comes after the predominance of cellphone cameras increased public documentation of police activity, including in the high-profile police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn. and Eric Garner on Staten Island, New York.
State Rep. John Kavanagh, the bill’s sponsor, said that there was little reason for bystanders to be within eight feet of an on-duty police officer and that the law would protect people from getting close to dangerous situations and prevent them from interfering with police work.
Under the law, it is illegal for someone to record law enforcement officers if the person is within eight feet of an area where the person knows, or should “reasonably” know, that law enforcement activity is occurring, or if they receive a verbal warning from an officer about the rule.
Law enforcement activity could include questioning a “suspicious” person, conducting an arrest or handling a disorderly person, according to the text of the bill. A violation is a misdemeanour offence, with a potential penalty of up to 30 days in jail and fines of up to $500.
There are exceptions for people on private property, in a vehicle stopped by police or those who are the subjects of police contact, as long as they do not interfere with officers’ actions. There are no exceptions for journalists.
The National Press Photographers Association sent a letter to Kavanagh in February that said the bill violated constitutional free speech and press protections. The New York Times was one of more than 20 media organizations that signed the letter, which said that the law would be “unworkable” at protests and demonstrations.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona wrote on Twitter that the law would make it more difficult to hold police officers accountable for misconduct and chilled “the use of the public’s most effective tool against police wrongdoing.”