Thursday, 20 June 2019

Is it Legal to Record the Police?

Written by Eric Zhang

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The police force serves the noble aim of protecting society. However, there may be circumstances where you want to record your encounters with them. Whether this is because you’re unsure whether they have grounds to do what they’re doing, or if you’re concerned about the disproportionate use of power, it is understandable why citizens may want to have evidence.

Documenting the behaviour of the police force is crucial in maintaining public confidence in Australia’s legal system. This is because it demonstrates an acceptable level of accountability and transparency. Reporting the conduct of police officers can also empower the most vulnerable constituents of our community. Whilst it is possible to get into legal trouble for filming in public places in different circumstances, this does not extend to filming the actions of the police.

NSW Police Policy on Recording

According to the NSW Police Force Media Policy, it is legal for you to record the actions of the police. This is because the Media Policy explicitly recognises the right of individuals to ‘take photographs or film Police Officers”. Generally, this right applies to the actions of Police Officers in a public space. However, it is legal to film from a privately owned space with the consent of the owner.

Power Limitations of the Police

Technically, police officers cannot interfere with the recording of their actions. The Media Policy specifies that police cannot:

  • Confiscate photographic or filming equipment
  • Delete images or recordings
  • Order a person to delete images or recordings

If a police officer attempts to interfere with your right to record their actions, such interference may amount to assault or trespass in a court of law. It is important to understand this, especially if the prevention of documentation has facilitated the excessive use of force.


Like any general rule of law, there are certain conditions or circumstances that suspend its application. The limited circumstances in which police may lawfully interfere with the individuals right to record include:

  • They have been given special powers under anti-terrorism legislation
  • Taking photos or filming images amounts to offensive conduct under the Summary Offences Act 1988(Cth)

How should I respond when a Police Officer Orders Me to Stop Recording Them?

You need to remember that you have a legal right to take such recordings, especially when you believe that the police are exceeding the limitations of their powers. Many police officers have not been trained on the right to record, and perceive the recording of their conduct as a threat to their authority. Thus, it is important to treat the police officer with respect so that the interaction does not escalate to interference.

In summary, it is perfectly legal to record the actions of the police. However, recording cannot interfere with the officer’s duties. Besides its legality, the documentation of police conduct is an efficient means of providing accountability without the bias of internal investigations. If you feel that a police officer has violated your right to record their conduct, our Criminal Lawyers may be able to assist you in pursuing legal action.

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