NEFAC, Media Groups Argue for Right to Secretly Record Public Activity of Police

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition recently argued for the right to secretly record the public activities of government officials, including police officers.

In an Oct. 4 amicus brief drafted by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, NEFAC and other media organizations explained that:

“[I]n situations where parties to a secretly recorded interaction have no reasonable expectation of privacy, it cannot be said that any state interest is advanced by criminalizing recording of that interaction. To the contrary, the news media’s ability to freely and effectively report on matters of public interest provides a vital public policy benefit and serves as an essential check on government power, creating ‘a salutary effect on the functioning of the government more generally’.”

The amicus brief was filed in Martin, et al v. Rollins, a case being heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. The case involves the Massachusetts Wiretap Statute which prohibits the secret recording of government officials even as they perform their duties in public.

In a 2011 decision, the court found that the “right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.” The court’s ruling, however, left open the question of secret recordings.

NEFAC regularly files and joins amicus briefs in cases involving the First Amendment and the public’s right to know. The coalition recently argued for a ‘fair report’ privilege in Massachusetts, for public access to retailer revenue under the federal Freedom of Information Act, against U.S. Dept. of Interior FOIA rules, for free access to police body camera footage in Vermont, for Massachusetts public records in aggregate form, for timely access to juror identities, for the right to private emails of government officials when they pertain to public business, for the freedom to record public police activity and for the preservation of anti-SLAPP laws.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, the Barr Foundation, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.