It is becoming an all too common occurrence for officers to stop and detain citizens for recording police or law enforcement activity of any kind. But the aforementioned video recording is a First Amendment protected activity, so anyone has the right to do so.
In June Sean Johnson was doing a First Amendment audit on the Pocatello FBI building. The First Amendment gives everyone in America freedom of speech and freedom of press, which includes video recording. Johnson was on a public sidewalk across the street from the FBI building during his audit.
Johnson was recording the entrance gate of the FBI building. Included in Johnson’s footage are vehicles going in and out of the FBI gate.
Quickly into the video a city officer approaches Johnson and asked for his ID. Johnson refuses to give the officer any ID on the premise that he is filming on a public sidewalk. The officer isn’t buying it and says that Johnson is committing a public voyeurism crime. That is a crime that doesn’t exist in Idaho.
Idaho code does not have a public voyeurism law. There is a video voyeurism law listed under “Chapter 66: Sex Crimes.” But video voyeurism deals with sex crimes and videoing sexually exploited content etc. Nothing about the video voyeurism law addresses filming law enforcement or law enforcement buildings.
But, the officer was determined that Johnson was breaking a law, so after so many chances of trying to get his ID, the officer arrests Johnson for failing to provide ID and obstructing.
Idaho law enforcement officials even received a memo from the state that reads: “remember the public has the right to photograph the exterior of Federal Buildings from publicly accessible spaces, such as streets, sidewalks, parks or plazas.”
Once Johnson bailed out of jail nearly 15 hours later he posted the video online. The response triggered thousands of people to comment flood the Pocatello Police Department’s facebook page; so much to the fact that the police temporarily shut their own page down because the response was so rampant.
First Amendment audits are becoming increasingly popular because more citizens are recognizing that video recording on public property is in fact their constitutional right.
Johnson has an attorney and plans to pursue legal action.