Citizen-generated film footage – from the Zapruder film, to the Rodney King beating, to 9/11 – has long served an important role in shaping media narratives around major news events. Yet, with the recent advent of smartphones, virtually everyone will soon have the ability to film public events at virtually anytime. What many people do not realize is that the legality filming other people varies widely from state-to-state. Massachusetts and Illinois, for example, both have strict laws about filming without consent, even in public.
Nevertheless, the technologies are increasingly being used by everyday citizens to record interactions with those in positions of authority. This trend is often described as sousveillance (meaning observation from below). For some people, this instinct to record of seemingly significant events has become almost second nature. Consider the recent video from Casey Neistat, who immediately pulled out a camera when stopped by an officer while biking.
On Point with Tom Ashbrook also recently aired an excellent show on the consequences and legality of citizens filming police actions, where guests discussed many instances of individuals being arrested for filming the police. These events raise the question: In the age of hyper-visibility, has it become a basic right to film events in public spaces? Has prior consent become too impractical to enforce? Who benefits?