Representing filmmaker James O’Keefe, CIR today filed a motion in federal court to strike down a California anti-tape recording statute that CIR contends violates the First Amendment. In that statute, California has made it a criminal offense for a person not affiliated with law enforcement to record his own “confidential” conversation with any other person, unless that person consents to being recorded.
In 2009, O’Keefe filmed a series of videos that induced Congress to withdraw federal funding from the “anti-poverty” group ACORN — which ceased to exist shortly thereafter. One of these videos, made in San Diego, featured Juan Carlos Vera, then an ACORN employee. Now Vera is suing O’Keefe (and also Hannah Giles, who played a “prostitute” in the video) for civil damages, with his sole basis being the anti-recording statute.
On behalf of O’Keefe, CIR argues in the brief filed today in the U.S. District Court in San Diego that the statute violates the Constitution and should be struck down, because it sweepingly bans speech and speech-related activity that is protected by the First Amendment, even threatening citizens with serious criminal penalties if they monitor public officials in public settings. For example, the statute makes it a crime (punishable by substantial jail time) for a citizen to record what a police officer says to him during a traffic stop.