(NEW YORK)–In response to the passage of a law in Arizona that would make it illegal to record police from within eight feet of ‘law enforcement activity,’ Hannah Waltz, PEN America’s U.S. free expression programs coordinator, issued the following statement:

“Arizona’s new law threatens fundamental constitutional rights, and the ability of the public to hold public servants to account. In 2020, a recording of the Minneapolis police’s murder of George Floyd sent shockwaves and inspired calls for urgent change around the world. Darnella Frazier’s cell phone video was a powerful example–one of many–of how the expressive act of bearing witness can shine a light on abuse and violence and, ultimately, help lead to a measure of justice.  This law, which limits the ability to record police in the very instances in which gross misconduct may occur, would prohibit exactly the act that held law enforcement to account in the George Floyd case. The law’s overly broad nature and unreasonable restraint on what individuals can do on their phone near a police officer contravenes the First Amendment;  infringes on the public’s right to know; and  fails to provide any exception for journalists, placing unacceptable constraints on press freedom.  Enforcement of this law could provide a pretext for misdemeanor charges against reporters and photographers doing their jobs.”

House Bill 2319 would make it illegal, with some exceptions, for a person to “knowingly make a video recording of law enforcement activity” if the person making the video recording has been warned not to by law enforcement and is within eight feet of where the activity is occurring. The law defines “law enforcement activity” as: “1. Questioning a suspicious person, 2. Conducting an arrest, issuing a summons or enforcing the law, 3. Handling an emotionally disturbed or disorderly person who is exhibiting abnormal behavior.” 

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, STrimel@PEN.org, 201-247-5057