I support the police when they are doing their job by apprehending criminals, enforcing the law and keeping the community safe. However, I do not support the police when they are deployed as government tax collectors, using speed guns to entrap and book motorists instead of deterring them from speeding in the first place and I will do everything in my power to thwart these entrapment activities. One of the most contentious issues that has arisen is that of police powers and how police deal with the public.
Apart from my own experiences in recording cops, I have been made aware of a number of instances where police have tried to stop motorists recording their activities on public roads. These police have verbally stated that motorists who record them are breaching various laws, such as the Listening Devices Act and the Surveillance Devices Act and some police have tried to intimidate and bully motorists by threatening them with arrest if they record them. Of course those threats have no substance whatsoever and are actually illegal.
Imagine if video and audio recording in public places was really illegal. The news would literally be devoid of any video taken in public. News crews do not have special dispensation from any law or have to hold press passes or accreditation to record events or any other thing in public places such as roads or outside courthouses, as we see most days on television. So this very fact makes a complete mockery of any assertions or claims by police that recording them in public places is illegal. Without question, it is perfectly legal to do so.
In a press conference, NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch stated that it was not against the law to film police or anyone in a public place. "We encourage people to film incidents to help gather evidence and we also use video cameras ourselves," he said. After an incident where a police officer tried to intimidate a member of the public who was video recording an incident where a person was grabbed and his head slammed into the footpath by a police officer. Murdoch stated, "The officer will be taken aside and this policy will be reinforced loud and clear." This is more than enough to prove to anybody that recording in public is completely legal and nobody has the right to prevent a person from doing this.
The Secretary of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties Stephen Blanks stated that the right to film in public is part of Common Law. He asserted, "In a free society, you're allowed to do anything so long as itís not prohibited by law. There is no law that prohibits filming in a public place. Indeed the media rely heavily on the right to film in public places to produce news and other programs, so it's an absolutely fundamental right of any free society that things which occur in public can be filmed."
South Australian Police stated that the public can record whatever they like. If police officers are in a public place they should be aware they could be photographed or video recorded by anyone. A Victorian Police spokesperson said, "There are no restrictions on any person filming or taking photos within public places and this includes members of the public and media." The Australian Capital Territory arm of the Australian Federal Police stated, "Members of the public have the right to take photographs and/or film police officers and incidents involving police officers, which are observable from a public space or from a privately owned place with the consent of the owner or occupier."
NSW Police stated, "Police do not have the power to prevent anyone from photographing or filming them and cannot confiscate camera equipment or delete images and recordings." The West Australians specifically referred to an incident where a police officer was convicted of assault after being filmed on a phone. They said, "We see it as more of a benefit than a hindrance as it helps ensure that all WA Police are in the right place at the right time doing the right thing."
So there is a mountain of evidence, statements from authorities and various legal opinions to show beyond any shadow of doubt that people can photograph or video and audio record police, providing that they do not interfere or obstruct those police in the performance of their official duty. So if you are standing a reasonable distance from an incident involving police, you are completely within your legal rights to record that incident and any interaction you have with police if they try and stop you from recording anything you like.
If anybody had doubts about the right of people to film police in public places, this excerpt from the NSW Police Force Handbook 2015 should dispel that myth. Furthermore, if any NSW cops try to prevent you from audio or video recording them, just refer them to page 242 of their own instruction manual. This is what it states:
The same situation applies in all Australian jurisdictions, so you should always video and audio record any encounters you have with police and always be ready to video record anything that you may witness police doing in public that appears to be untoward or unlawful. The old saying "A picture is worth a thousand words" always applies.
The Surveillance Devices Act 2007 (NSW) states:
It is easy to see that in the case of a motorist recording police in a public place, the motorist is a party to the recording, therefore it is legal for him to do so. Also, a conversation with a policeman in a public place does not constitute a private conversation, simply because anybody in the vicinity can listen to it. On top of that, the cop would be very aware that a motorist is holding a recording device and recording the conversation, so this is completely legal. But even if a motorist was using a hidden camera and did not inform the cop that he was being filmed, that does not matter because it is perfectly legal to film using a concealed camera in public places.
There are certain exemptions to the Surveillance Devices Act that are pertinent to motorists, as follows:
The exemptions to this part of the Act show that the use of a recording device to protect the lawful interests of the principal party (the motorist) is completely legal, therefore a motorist who is confronted by a policeman demanding that he cease recording merely has to advise that he is doing so to protect his lawful interests and he should refuse to stop recording.
Channel 10 cameraman Nick Tohme spotted some police in Sydney's King's Cross arresting a man, so he pulled out his mobile phone and started to record the incident. A policewoman rushed over to Tohme and aggressively objected to him and a colleague filming her. Tohme claimed that the officer issued a threat of violence and a threat to break his property. Tohme claimed that the policewoman shoved him and used foul language.
This report shows yet again that by law, any member of the public is entitled to film in a public place. The fact that in this particular incident that police backed off when Tohme produced his media identification is of absolutely no relevance. The media do not have any special dispensation to record in public and any person can do this. Police cannot legally stop members of the public stop filming them. The outcome of this particular incident was that NSW police local area commander Tony Crandell admitted that the policewoman who abused Nick Tohme was counselled for her belligerent attitude and her illegal demand that he stop filming her.
If police push or threaten people for filming them or to seize the cameras and look at the material on them, those police can be disciplined or even charged if the people who were assaulted by them press charges. The NSW Police Legal Services has warned police that as more and more cameras are being carried by citizens in their phones, police are increasingly subject to being recorded, but there is absolutely nothing that they can do about this. In any case, the policewoman who threatened Nick Tohme was dealt with and hopefully she now understands that she broke the law and exceeded her authority by a long way.
I wrote to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) to ascertain the legality of recording in public places and this was the response.
Most cops are responsible and do their jobs well, but there are some real power-mad rogue cops out there. In fact, a very credible investigation in NSW showed that one out of every forty cops had a criminal record and some convictions were for extremely serious crimes, such as stealing, breaking and entering, fraud, assault and battery, illegal drug use and many other offences.
When encountering police it is important to understand that the cop who pulled you over may be a criminal and may not hesitate in booking you for committing an offence that you did not commit, so that he can fill up his infringement book. So to be on the safe side, it is vital to consider every cop to be a criminal and do everything possible to protect yourself against such frame-ups by obtaining hard evidence for use in court and other places. The average citizen stands very little chance in court when a cop blatantly lies about what he claims you have allegedly done and there is no hard evidence to refute the cop's testimony except the citizen's own word.
Some cops will try to dissuade people from recording them by stating that they are recording the encounter and there is no need for people to make their own recordings. This is utter nonsense and nobody should ever fall for this ploy. NEVER EVER let cops talk you out of recording them for any reason.
Every motorist, even the most law-abiding drivers, should always be prepared to record every encounter with police, in order to have hard evidence of what happened and what was said by both the motorist and the cop. Then there can be no question as to exactly what happened.
I have been made aware that on some occasions when police were being recorded by people, police officers had threated them with confiscation of their recording equipment. The reason given by those cops was that the recordings constituted "evidence" that had some sort of relevance. Well, one word can describe this - bullshit. People have the legal right to record incidents, especially those that involve them, to protect their lawful interests. This right is stated in all federal and state legislation that pertains to surveillance and listening devices.
Police have no right to confiscate evidence that serves to protect the rights of the people gathering it. It is obvious that if police try to confiscate such evidence, they are really trying to pervert the course of justice. In some cases, recorded matter has mysteriously been erased when it showed police acting in an unlawful manner. Cops do not like being recorded, however in most instances, it makes them behave and mostly adhere to the law, as they know that such recordings can be used against them in any cases that ensue.
Therefore if a cop threatens to confiscate your camera or smartphone, firmly tell the cop that you are recording him to protect your lawful interests as you are entitled to do under federal and state legislation. State firmly that if he dares to confiscate your camera and the evidence contained within it that you are gathering, you will take very strong legal action against him personally, as you consider that what he is attempting to do is to illegally pervert the course of justice by gaining access to evidence that may incriminate him and possibly try to destroy it.
The most important thing to do in such a situation is to ensure that your smartphone is protected with a passcode that will lock the phone completely after a certain number of attempts. Obviously if the cop can't get at the contents of the smartphone, the only way he can destroy evidence against him is to destroy the entire phone, which itself will prove exactly what he was doing. But the best thing is to completely resist being intimidated by cops and refuse to stop recording or to hand over the recording device.
One very good way of preserving such recordings and completely negate police efforts to get hold of them is to set your smartphone to upload the recordings to a "cloud" service in real time, such as iCloud. Tell the cop that the recording is being uploaded at the time and that even if he manages to illegally confiscate your smartphone, he cannot get his hands on the recording that has already been transmitted to the "cloud" storage or to be able to delete it in any way. Tell the cop that his attempts to illegally confiscate your smartphone have been recorded and will be used to charge him with criminal offences and also to sue him for damages in the civil courts.
If you are pulled over by police and you refuse to answer their questions and you start to video record them, many cops will demand that you cease doing so and some may even be silly enough to threaten you with prosecution under the Listening Devices Act, the Surveillance Devices Act and other laws. This is exactly what happened to me when I video recorded a cop who was entrapping motorists in the Sydney suburb of Silverwater. The cop threatened me with arrest until I told him in no uncertain terms that if he did this, he would be facing a massive lawsuit. Luckily for the cop, he thought better of it and scuttled off. The video clip of this encounter is on the Caught In The Act page but you can click this link - Cop Encounter With Ziggy - to see it immediately.
The fact is that a person is legally entitled to record whatever he likes in a public place and police have no right to try and stop anybody from doing so. The one thing that I have learned about police is that most of them do not actually know the law. Most cops on the beat or in patrol cars are merely trained to try and prevent criminal activity that they observe at the time and to book people for traffic infringements, but very few of them have a good understanding of the law, especially in regard to such statutes as the Listening Devices Act and the Surveillance Devices Act.
In fact, many cops have been known to literally invent laws on the fly to try and support their illegal actions, as was so beautifully demonstrated by that cop that tried to stop me from video recording him by threatening me with fabricated offences under the Listening Devices Act. He simply did not have the foggiest notion about my right to video record him, so he just tried to intimidate me by inventing an offence until I threatened to sue him.
So if you are confronted by a belligerent cop who thinks that he knows the law about detaining you and trying to stop you from filming him in action, don't take any nonsense from him about you doing something illegal by recording him. You should show him a document that CARR has produced that you can print and keep in your car - Police Powers - It is on the Downloads page. If that does not stop the threats, just challenge the cop to arrest you and tell him that if he dares to do that, you will take him to the cleaners in court with a massive damages lawsuit.
For those motorists who really are concerned about police pulling them over and seizing their recording devices, there is a sneaky way of circumventing this. If the motorist is recording an encounter with a policeman and the cop reaches into the car and disconnects the car black box recorder and grabs the video camera or smartphone from the motorist who is recording the incident, there is a very cheap and useful device that can be deployed without the cop knowing it.
There are various video and audio recording devices disguised as pens, tiepins and other items that motorists can wear without cops being aware that they are recording devices. Electronics shops such as Jaycar and on-line store Kogan sell pens that are also video recorders and supermarket chain Aldi occasionally has these devices on special sale. So a motorist who is pulled over by police can merely activate the pen video camera in his shirt pocket or even hold it in his hand as if he is going to use it to make notes and record the encounter.
So if the cop disables your car black box recorder, which is illegal for him to do in any case, or grabs your video recorder, you can still keep recording on the pen video recorder and use the recording as evidence to prosecute the rogue cop.
The bottom line is that motorists have legal rights and police do not have unfettered powers and they should damn well know it. CARR advises all motorists to support police who are doing their job in protecting the citizenry, but promptly bring them to heel if they exceed their powers, act as tax collectors or try to intimidate motorists from exercising their legal rights.