Mass Lawmakers Consider Outlawing Phototaking By Firefighters, EMS and Police

Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a bill to criminalize phototaking by first responders. One of the advocates of the law, Michelle Mathieson, is the mother of a woman who was murdered in 2011. Local police officers took and shared cellphone images of her body.

Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, Mathieson said:

  • Why am I still fighting for this?
  • In 30 days, it’ll be 10 years since Amanda was murdered, and here we go yet again.
  • I’m still trying to get this passed.
  • Can we please do something? This shouldn’t happen.

The text of the bill is as follows:

  • Chapter 271 of the General Laws is hereby amended by adding the following section:-
  • Section 51: (a) As used in this section, the following terms shall, unless the context clearly requires otherwise, have the following meanings:-
  • “First responder”, a law enforcement officer, a paid, call, reserve or volunteer firefighter, a paid, call, reserve or volunteer emergency medical technician or any other person whose usual and regular duties include rendering assistance at the scene of a crime, accident or other emergency.
  • “Immediate family member”, a spouse, child, step child, adopted child, sibling, step sibling, adopted sibling, parent, step parent, adopted parent, grandparent, or grandchild.
  • (b) No first responder who responds to or is otherwise present at the scene of a crime, accident or other emergency in the performance of his or her official duties shall take a photographic or digital image of a victim of a crime, accident or emergency unless the first responder takes the photographic or digital image: (i) in the performance of his or her official duties, or; (ii) upon the consent of the victim or, if the victim is unable to consent, an immediate family member of the victim.
  • (c) No first responder shall, other than in the performance of his or her official duties, transmit, disseminate or otherwise make available to a third person a photographic or digital image of a victim of a crime, accident or emergency without the consent of the victim or, if the victim is unable to consent, an immediate family member of the victim.
  • (d) Any person who knowingly violates subsection (b) or (c) shall be punished by a fine of not more than $2,000, or by imprisonment for not more than 1 year, or both such fine and imprisonment.

Michelle Cruz, an attorney who previous served as a Victim’s Advocate, was quoted by WWLP.com as saying:

  • Massachusetts has been on the forefront of victims’ rights for a long time.
  • Passage of this bill will ensure that we continue to be so.

Here is some news coverage of the bill. Unfortunately, there is no analysis of how criminalizing such phototaking will benefit the victims. The only state with a law that does that is Cathy’s Law in New Jersey, which beyond criminalizing phototaking by fire, EMS and police, allows the victim whose photo is taken to sue and recover $1,000 per photo plus recover attorney’s fees from the photo-taker.

We cover this issue extensively in Drafting & Implementing an Effective Digital Imagery Policy. The next class is September 22, 2021.  We don’t need the legislature to step in to fix this problem for us. But let’s be clear: if we do not fix it, the legislature will… one state at a time.

Here is a copy of the proposed law:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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