Due to our appeal, civilians are free to document police
Lately, we see more and more testimony of events in which police officers are harassing citizens who are documenting them while they operate in the public arena. In an attempt to prevent the documentation, police officers use various methods: threat and fear tactics, violence, grabbing phones, and detainments. This has become a full blown phenomenon, calling for a systematic examination of the police force, and a clear instruction to police on this matter.
On 10.8.2020, we appealed to the legal advisor for the police along with the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, the Association of Ethiopian Jews, and the Clinic for Multiculturalism and Diversity at Hebrew University. In the appeal, we detailed several recent events illustrating the phenomenon. We claimed that there is no legal prohibition against documenting enforcement activities taking place in the public arena, and furthermore - that such documentation is a freedom of expression and that the public has a right to the knowledge of its occurrence. We also argued that documenting police officers while conducting enforcement activities in the public arena is critical for assessing criticisms towards the police, by proving the innocence of suspects and defendants. Therefore, we demanded that the police issue a detailed procedure by which police must allow the documentation of their activities in the public arena.
On 15.10.2020, seeing as our appeal went unanswered, we appealed once again to the legal advisor to the police with details of additional similar cases.
On 31.12.20, we received a response that the police had issued a directive clarifying that citizens are allowed to document police enforcement actions in the public space. The directive stipulates that photography and filming will only be considered a disturbance to a police officer if it creates an "actual disturbance" (for example, in the event that the photographer puts the phone directly in the police officer's face). The directive also clarifies that a police officer cannot open a civilian's cell phone and perform actions on it, even if he or she has the authority to seize the camera.