Privacy SOS

Once and for all: it’s not illegal to record police in Massachusetts!

In an otherwise stellar and incredibly important piece of reporting, Slate's Dahlia Lithwick makes a mistake that journalists have frequently made with regard to the wiretapping statute in Massachusetts. The piece begins:

In three months, thousands of reporters from around the globe will descend on Chicago for the G-8 summit. Part of what they will chronicle is the protests and police crackdowns that have made each annual meeting so newsworthy. Sadly for all these reporters, and for all the American journalists with plans to film the protestors and cops, any effort to audiotape police activity on public streets or in parks is a crime in Illinois—a crime punishable by 15 years in prison.

So far, so good. But then she writes: "Illinois, like Massachusetts and Oregon, is famous for having one of the most draconian eavesdropping laws in the country."

STOP THE PRESSES! That's not true!

Lithwick is writing about an extremely important subject, and so it's extremely important to clear up this issue once and for all! So here it is, a breakdown of the wiretapping statute in Massachusetts, in clear English, for anyone to read and understand:

You have the right to freely record police officers as they go about their jobs, as long as you don't do it secretly. The wiretap statute in Massachusetts prevents secret recordings; it does not, as has been reported again and again, require "two party consent." 

Having said that, enjoy both Lithwick's very important article, wherein she describes the campaign of press intimidation underway in Chicago in advance of the G8, and the following video, which Joe Gordon-Levitt and the ACLU made together on this very subject. For more information about the wiretapping statute in Massachusetts, and a recent ACLUm victory to protect our right to film the police, click here. 

(Note: we don't mean to unfairly pick on Lithwick; many journos have made this mistake. We've just got to lay it to bed, once and for all!)

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© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.