EPIC Amicus Brief Urges Court to Recognize First Amendment Right to Livestream the Police

November 16, 2021

EPIC has filed an amicus brief in Sharpe v. Winterville Police Department supporting people’s right to livestream their public interactions with police. The plaintiff in the case, Sharpe, sued the Winterville Police Department after an officer forcibly grabbed his phone and threatened him with jailtime for livestreaming his encounter with police as a passenger in a pulled-over car on Facebook Live. The district court dismissed the case, finding that passengers do not have a First Amendment right to livestream a traffic stop. EPIC’s amicus brief describes how livestreaming is the newest method of the long-running, First-Amendment-protected practice of “copwatching.” Copwatching is an activity in which members of overpoliced communities peaceably watch citizen-police encounters “to hold police accountable for misconduct and to increase the safety of those policed.” EPIC also explained that stopping passengers from livestreaming traffic stops serves no legitimate purpose because police “conduct stops on streets and highways where hundreds of people may pass during the course of a stop” and where “[c]opwatching groups, journalists, and other bystanders can communicate essentially the same information as a passenger in a traffic stop.” Finally, EPIC explained that banning passengers from communicating information about their traffic stop in real-time is impracticable because “[p]eople in a stopped car can communicate a traffic stop’s existence and exact location through a text message, phone call, or social media before the officer even approaches their car.” EPIC regularly files amicus briefs protecting freedom of expression and constitutional rights in using new technologies.

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