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Massachusetts law about recording police

A compilation of laws, cases and web sources on audio and video recording of police activity by the public.

Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

MGL c.272, § 99 Interception of wire and oral communications.

Ruled unconstitutional as applied to recording police in most circumstances. See Martin v. Gross, below.

Selected case law

A series of 3 cases, beginning in 2011, explain current law in Massachusetts.

1. Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78, 2011
There is a constitutional right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public.
 

2. Gericke v. Begin, 753 F.3d 1 (2014)
"the threshold question here is whether the occasion of a traffic stop places Gericke's attempted filming outside the constitutionally protected right to film police that we discussed in Glik. It does not."

an individual's exercise of her First Amendment right to film police activity carried out in public, including a traffic stop, necessarily remains unfettered unless and until a reasonable restriction is imposed or in place.

3. Project Veritas Action Fund v. Rollins, __ F.3d. __ (1st Cir., 2020)
People may not be criminally charged for recording police doing their work.

Section 99 violates the First Amendment in criminalizing the secret, nonconsensual audio recording of police officers discharging their official duties in public spaces.

Web sources

Federal court rules cops can't arrest you for secretly filming them, The Root, 2018.
Provides examples of incidents when people had been arrested for taping police in Massachusetts. "A federal court ruled that recording law enforcement officials performing their duties in public is protected by the First Amendment, even if the recordings are done in secret."

Massachusetts wiretap law can’t apply to police recording, First Circuit rules, First Amendment Watch, 2020.
"On December 15th, the United States Appeals Court for the First Circuit unanimously ruled that a Massachusetts wiretap statute could not be used against individuals who recorded police officers in public, even if the officer had not consented to the recording."

You can secretly record officials and police in Massachusetts, a judge ruled, Boston Magazine, 2018
In a victory for two very different groups of people, a federal judge has ruled that a Massachusetts law against secretly recording police officers or government officials in public places is unconstitutional.

Contact

Phone

Within Massachusetts only

Within Massachusetts only

Online

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Reference librarians via email masslawlib@gmail.com

Address

Administrative office (no law library at this location)
2 Center Plaza
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Boston, MA 02108
Last updated: December 18, 2020
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