Promoting and Defending the Right to Record

By Dia Kayyali, Program Manager, tech + advocacy

Secrecy breeds impunity. But the ability to record the police and military can expose human rights abuses to the world. International human rights law confirms the right of everyone, not just the press, to record military and law enforcement without fear of arrest, violence, or other retaliation. But unfortunately, the reality is that right isn’t always respected. And in many places, it’s outright denied.

That’s why today, WITNESS is launching our Right to Record project. As we note on the page:

The Right to Record is clearly protected under provisions of international human rights standards such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Universal Declaration of Human Rights that protect freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and the right to information. In some countries, notably the United States, the Right to Record is legally recognized. In others, such as most of the Persian Gulf region, recording law enforcement and other government officials is expressly prohibited. And in other places, like most of the European Union, the law is unclear.

We hope that by sharing information about the international, national, and sometimes even local laws that exist around the right to record, as well as the reality of how and why people are exercising this right, we can support efforts to strengthen this right in a meaningful way for activists. We will explore some of the questions surround the right to record, and the page:

will help explain what the right to record is, why it is essential for human rights, what laws and policies support the right to record at domestic and international levels, and how human rights defenders can exercise their right to record safely and effectively. We will share case studies, tip sheets, blog posts, and resources from specific countries and regions.

We’re currently featuring a new blog post and map on the state of the right to record the police and military in the United States and a map on the right to record around the world, as well as links to existing materials from ourselves and others about the right to record internationally and in specific countries. Check out the US map, the global map, and follow us on social media to stay updated on our work to support this essential right.

The right to record hasn’t been fully explored. Does the right to record the police and military include the right to publish that video on the Internet? Does it include the right to use drones? Record secretly? We’ll be considering answers to these questions and more on our site.