Copwatch is an education program and app for the Australian Aboriginal Community to help improve engagement, trust and accountability between police and Aboriginal people. The Copwatch app lets you record interactions with police - safely and legally.

 

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Your rights when recording

Know your rights!!!

Table of contents

Recording the police – your rights

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​Recording the police – your rights

Can I record the police in a public place?

 

Yes. Everywhere in Australia, the law says you can record in public, even if the police tell you to stop but you need to be aware of your legal obligations.

Generally, you can also record conversations or activities that are ‘public’ even if they happen on private property. Have a look at the section below, ‘Can I record the police on private property’ for more information about the difference between a public and a private conversation.

There are some important exceptions you need to know. Even though a person may be in a public place, they may be engaged in a private activity or conversation.

A private activity in a public place would include using a public toilet, or getting changed in a public change room. Obviously, you cannot record in these places. See the section ‘What if someone records me without consent, or shares a recording of me?’ for more information.

Can I record the police on private property?

 

If you are on private property, you need to think about whether the conversation or activity is intended to be ‘private’ or not, because different rules will apply.

 

‘Public conversations’ and ‘private conversations’

It is a private conversation or activity if the people involved expect that it will stay private between them. If they are the only people in the room, or if they are whispering, this probably means they expect it to be private.

 

It is a public conversation or activity if the people involved did not have an expectation of privacy. If they are in a room full of people at a party, or on the front lawn surrounded by a group of people, this probably means they know other people will see or hear them.

Recording public conversations/activities on private property

 

Generally, you can record conversations or activities that are ‘public’ even if they happen on private property.

 

For example, say you are at a friend’s house, you have permission to be there, and your friend is being questioned by police. If the police and your friend know that you are there, and they are not trying to have a private conversation (for example, by whispering) then you can record the police speaking to your friend as a ‘public’ conversation.

 

Recording private conversations/activities on private property

 

You need to be more careful recording ‘private’ conversations or activities – and the rules are different in different states and territories.

Generally, if you are a part of the conversation or activity, and you have the permission of everyone involved, then you are okay to record.

The situation is different if you are not involved in the conversation, or people have not given you permission to record their private conversation. An example is if you are hiding in another room watching the police question your friend, and the police do not know you are there. If you make a recording in this sort of situation, you need to get legal advice before using the recording. Often it is okay, but you can get in trouble if you don’t comply with the special rules that may apply, and the laws are different across Australia.

Make sure you also understand the rights of the people you are recording. See the section ‘What if someone records me without consent, or shares a recording of me?’

Can I record phone calls?

You can record phone calls if all the people on the call know it is being recorded, and give consent.

Phone calls would usually be private conversations. The people on the call would not expect other people to be listening in. Have a look at the section Recording private conversations/activities on private property’ for the rules that apply to recording private conversations.

 

Keep in mind also that there are laws that apply across Australia that make it generally unlawful to use a wiretap or other ‘interception’ device to record phone calls.

What about other devices, like drones?

The laws about recording people generally cover all sorts of recording devices like phones, cameras, and voice recorders.

For drones that can record, you need to be aware of the rules for flying drones as well as these recording rules. The rules for drones are different depending on their weight. Most drones are less than 2kg, so we will only look at the rules for these. If your drone is heavier than 2kg, make sure you look into the rules around using it.

You do not need a licence to fly a drone, but there are some important rules to remember so you do not cop a big fine:

  • Only fly in visual line of sight – for example, not at night, not through cloud or fog, and make sure you can see the aircraft with your own eyes

  • Do not fly closer than 30 metres to vehicles, boats, buildings or people

  • Do not fly over populous areas like beaches, parks, or sports ovals when they are in use

  • Do not fly higher than 120 metres (400 feet) when in controlled airspace – this applies to most Australian cities

  • Do not create a hazard for other aircraft – this means staying at least 5.5 km away from airfields, aerodromes and helicopter landing sites unless you comply with certain additional restrictions

  • Do not fly over restricted or prohibited areas without permission from the controlling authority – this includes, for example, military spaces, air shows, large public events and where police impose restrictions near bushfires or crime scenes

 

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has an app that shows where you can and cannot fly your drone.

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