Denver Diaries: The right to privacy among 15,000 cameras


MPR’s Elizabeth Stawicki reported last week on an effort by the ACLU to train attorneys to help out during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul next week. The effort seems to focus on making sure due process is followed once any protesters are arrested.

In Denver, I got a look at a similar effort, only this one provides legal representation and assistance when dealing with the biggest show of force in Denver — the media.

A cameraman from World News in Canada was filming some protesters who were “being treated for injuries.” There had been no confrontation with any police.

Some of the protesters made a high-decibel request to stop photographing, and damaged the man’s camera. A crowd gathered, and cameras and microphones appeared like mosquitoes to bare skin.

That’s when the legal adviser stepped in to inform us that it was illegal to be filming people.

“You wouldn’t go into a hospital ward and film,” he said.

“But you’re in a public place,” the cameraman informed him, “and I have a right to film.”

“Under the Constitution, they have a right to privacy,” the legal expert informed him, staking out an odd week, odd location, and odd activity to be asserting a privacy right.


Al Crespo, a photographer who documents major protests and is a well-known gadfly in the protest community, stepped in and told the cameraman he needed to “stop whining about your rights and move on.”

Irony is not in short supply in Denver.

  • I suggest reading the Constitution. There is no right to privacy listed.

  • Bob Collins

    Yes, I’m aware of that. OTOH, the Supreme Court actually has interpreted a right to privacy, but it applies to government intrusion and — so far — the media is not part of the government (there’s a softball; who’s going to hit it?)

    Once we informed him of that, he shifted to the “decency” angle, an angle that is never going to work with the media.

    As with so many other things, it was part of the “game” and part of the “show”. It gets harder and harder to know who’s manipulating whom, as Twin Citians will soon witness.

  • I love legal “adviser’s” who don’t know the law.

  • Photography is not a crime, video, still or otherwise. If the photographer is in a public space and they can see it, they can photograph it.

  • Bob Collins


  • Rick F.

    Sorry Bob, but the legal expert is right in this case. Your right to privacy for medical reasons has been upheld in numerous courts over 1st amendment concerns. In fact, a certain TV station in California was found liable for overhearing a paramedic talking to a patient. And they heard the patient’s condition from above in their helicopter. Where you stand (private vs. public space) is important in privacy matters, but not where medical records have taken place. HEPA laws have been as over extended as the Patriot Act.

  • Bob Collins

    What’s odd is I never saw the people being treated. They kept talking about people being treated, but I never saw them. And then later, when the guy was making his case, he referred to the cameraman “filming people eating.”

    One question, Rick (and thanks for posting, by the way) at what point does the camera person’s actions become illegal? I’m thinking of all those people being treated after the I-35W bridge collapse and all of those gripping photos. Were they illegally taken?

    It’s a circus out there. Minnesotans are going to love the show.

  • Rick F.

    The violation of law comes into effect when privacy is breached, and that is up to the courts. In the CA case, the live broadcast of an unidentified victim’s condition constituted that violation. Here, for example, it could be the publication of a blog with a victim’s picture on it, even if they’re not named. They just have to be identifiable. The other side of the coin is this: the camera is an extension of the human body when it’s up to the eye, and touching the camera or blocking it, COPS style, is assault/battery.

  • daveg

    It’s HIPAA, not HEPA. HEPA is an air filter.

    Even years after its introduction, HIPAA regulations are a lot like the FAA regulations Bob knows so well: various interpretations abound, and the rules can be parsed ad nauseum. You will see HIPAA interpretations in the “Wait behind this line while filling your prescription” and in televised sporting events when they will say a player is injured but provide no details as to the type and/or extent of the injury.

    I am surprised at the interpretation that says your image can’t be recorded in a public place if you have managed to injure yourself, though. It’s quite a stretch from the intent to provide privacy in your medical records to provide an impermeable, opaque shield against photographers in public. Still, the California judiciary still has a way of surprising even a cynic like me.

    That said, this specific case is not analogous to hospital environment as the legal adviser seems to believe it is. A hospital is not a public environment. He’s just grasping at straws with this one, and should rightfully have been told to butt out.

    Re: “stop whining about your rights and move on.” They came for the media photographers, and I said nothing.