There has been a recent spate of people being arrested in the USA and UK for taking photos and video of the police at work. We also found anecdotal evidence of police in New Zealand exceeding their legal authority when it came to people taking photos and video of them:
"Taking photographs around Cuba Mall and a police officer approached and said 'Would you like me to break that?' indicating the camera. He was exceedingly hostile and it turned out it was because the officer thought he had been photographed by us."
"Have to wonder why they confiscate cameras and tapes then. We were told we could pick the tapes up from the station... at which point any knowledge of the tapes was denied."
The legal situation in New Zealand
Firstly, it is generally accepted that anyone can photograph or video anyone else as long as the subject wouldn't have a reasonable expectation of privacy. There are a range of exceptions, but are the police one of them?
We wrote to both the Police Commissioner and the Minister of Police and asked them "Is it against the law in New Zealand to take photos of video of the police at work?"
The Police responded first: "No, not if the photos of video of police at work are taken in a public place, or with the landowner's consent if on private property."
Judith Collins, the Minister of Police, backed up the Police's position in her response, going on to say that she saw no need to change the law and was not aware of any plans to do so.
It seems clear that in New Zealand the police can't stop you from documenting what they are doing. They have no power to stop you, seize your camera or force you to delete images or video.
We believe that this is a good thing and is part of having a police force that is accountable to the people they serve. The police hold most of the cards when it comes to dealing with the public, and the prospect of being recorded should provide a brake on any temptation to abuse those powers.
However one concern remains. Police training does not cover this issue and it seems that some officers feel free to make up their own powers as they go. We recommend that the NZ Police should make sure that this is included in initial and continuing training.
Finally, we remind anyone taking photos of police at incidents to make sure that you do not get in their way or you could be arrested for obstruction.