In the last several years, smartphone videos have been instrumental in exposing police misconduct and violence—in some cases, even leading to indictments. However, last week, the Arizona state legislature passed House Bill 2319, which will now make filming police a lot harder and the consequences more severe.

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What is the Arizona House Bill 2319?

Sponsored by State Rep. John Kavanagh, a former New York police officer, the law, signed by Governor Doug Ducey, makes it illegal to film law enforcement personnel within eight feet of their activity, whether or not a verbal warning has been issued. Punishment for violating the law is a class three misdemeanor, which could mean a fine or jail time. 

“I’m pleased that a very reasonable law that promotes the safety of police officers and those involved in police stops and bystanders has been signed into law,” Kavanagh said. “It promotes everybody’s safety yet still allows people to reasonably videotape police activity as is their right.”

riot police
The new law could potentially make it more difficult to hold police accountable for misconduct. Getty Images

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There are a few caveats that critics say make the bill convoluted, though. For example, the bill notes that should the encounter take place in an “enclosed structure” where the minimum distance cannot be maintained, filming is allowed as long as the law enforcement officer determines that it is safe and does not interfere with any proceedings. 

Additionally, if you’re the subject of a law enforcement encounter (including a vehicle stop), the bill allows you to film, provided that, again, it does not interfere with “lawful police actions.” 

Is this a violation of the First Amendment?

According to NPR, this bill passed just one year after the US Department of Justice launched a far-reaching investigation into the Phoenix police department’s potential use of excessive force. The National Press Photographers Association filed an official objection in February, along with an open letter signed by major media outlets and First Amendment Advocates, including BuzzFeed, The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and the Society of Professional Journalists.

“Governor Ducey has made it a crime for someone to film law enforcement if an officer is less than eight feet from them—chilling the use of the public’s most effective tool against police wrongdoing in violation of our First Amendment rights,” American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona staff attorney K.M. Bell told Insider. “By limiting our ability to record police interactions, this law will undoubtedly make it even more difficult to hold police officers accountable for misconduct.”