Know your rights when photographing and recording activities in public settings in Iowa!
  • You have the right to photograph or film anything that is in plain view when you are lawfully in a public space. This includes state and federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police/government officials carrying out official duties. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which includes Iowa, has upheld a permit requirement that banned all commerical activites — including commerical photography — in a public park without a permit. That permit requirement could not apply to noncommercial photography though, like filming a poiltical protest or police abuse that might take place in the park.
  • Police officers cannot search or seize your phone without a warrant. They also need a warrant to view your digital photos or videos. However, if you hand your phone over willingly, a court would likely determine that you’ve given consent to the search. (Never physically resist, but state that you do not consent to the search.)
  • Police may not delete your photos or videos, or demand that you delete them — under any circumstances.
  • Police may legitimately order you to stop photographing or recording if you are truly interfering with law enforcement activity. Officers are subject to public scrutiny when carrying out their official duties, but your recording should not physically interfere with the officer’s actions.
  • You do not have the right to photograph or record on private property without the consent of the property owner.
  • Always use your best judgment and caution. Remember the street is not the place to challenge the constitutionality of an officer’s behavior.
  • Special Note: Visual photographs are fully protected under the law. However, audio recordings are different. Some states have tried to regulate audio under state wiretapping laws. In Iowa, you can record oral communications with the consent of just one party, meaning if you’re interacting with the police and you record it, you should be ok. However, when you are a bystander, the situation depends on whether there is a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in the communication between the parties. The ACLU believes that officers have no reasonable expectation of privacy when carrying out official, public duties in public places.
Do you believe that your right to photograph or video in public has been violated? Contact us at
Current as of August 2019