There are various reasons you might want to record an Australian police officer. Maybe you’ve been detained by the law and want to prove what was said in court. Maybe you’re a video blogger attempting to capture “life on the street”. Or maybe you’re bearing witness to some good ol’ fashioned police brutality.
Whatever the reason, it’s important to know your legal rights in these situations. Can a police officer legally stop you from filming? Let’s find out.
In Australia, police officers have no specific powers to prevent you taking photographs or video of them in public. Provided you obey all other laws and your actions do not hinder them at doing their jobs, you are legally entitled to keep shooting.
In most situations, a police officer’s rights to privacy are no different to an ordinary civilian’s. If they are in a public place where no reasonable person would expect to be afforded privacy, you are allowed to record them in the performance of their duties. This even extends to most crime scenes. (How else do you think news outlets get all their footage?)
Here are the rules as outlined in the NSW Police Force Media Handbook (emphasis ours):
Members of the public have the right to take photographs or film police officers which are observable from a public space or from a privately owned place with the consent of the owner or occupier.
Generally speaking, if a person takes photographs or videos Police Officers, operations or incidents from a public space, Police do not have the power to:
- prevent the person from taking photographs or filming
- confiscate photographic or filming equipment
- delete images or recordings, or
- request or order a person to delete images or recordings.
If Police Officers try to confiscate equipment or interfere with members of the public to delete images or recordings, the officers may be liable for prosecution for assault or trespass to the person concerned.
So that’s a pretty big no-no as far as interfering with photographers goes. While the above is specific to NSW Police, other states and territories observe similar rules.
With that said, there are occasions when police can legally prevent you from filming. Examples include when performing covert operations (such as an anti-terror raid) or any situation where there are legitimate safety concerns for bystanders (such as during natural disasters or a mass shooting incident.) They can also seize your recording device as evidence if they believe you have captured a crime.
Naturally, you must observe the privacy laws in your state or territory as it applies to video recording. For example, while you may film police officers in NSW, recording their conversations without their knowledge is an offence under the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act.
On a final note, having a legal right to do something doesn’t mean you have to be a dick about it. If a member of the general public asked you to stop filming them, you probably would. Unless you have a good reason to be recording them, you should extend police officers the same courtesy.
This story has been updated since its original publication.