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There was a recent altercation recently between media representatives and protesters at the University of Missouri. The protesters formed a human barrier around the camp, impeding free access to anyone. They also went as far as physically pushing away media representatives.

The rationale, according to one Twitter account associated with the protest:

“We ask for no media in the parameters so the place where people live, fellowship, and sleep can be protected from twisted insincere narratives,” a Twitter account associated with the activists later declared, adding that “it’s typically white media who don’t understand the importance of respecting black spaces.”

Did they have any legal grounds to block access to the protest site, which is ostensibly a public space?

Video of the altercation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1S3yMzEee18

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    Could you elaborate on the scenario? Who was blocking the public space, how were they blocking it, and why? – feetwet Nov 11 '15 at 18:18
  • @feetwet Lots of stuff in the news if you just Google. usatoday.com/story/news/2015/11/10/… IANAL but the protesters put a no media sign in the ground on a public space and seem to think it was enforceable. – paparazzo Nov 11 '15 at 18:48
  • I added more detail. – user15299 Nov 11 '15 at 20:24
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In this specific case and location, the precise location of the incident was explicitly made a public space via state law not too long before this actual event.

They therefore most certainly have no right to privacy.

What is interesting to me though is the other side of this, does someone have the right to record others in public spaces, or is it simply not illegal? For instance if I non-destructively and non-violently "jam" your camera by shooting a low-power IR beam at your lens, have I abridged a legal right of yours? I don't think it would be illegal to do this. I am not even positive its against the 1st Amendment. The 1st Amendment relates only to the dissemination of information, not the collection of it. The Constitution doesn't seem to compel the gov't to make information available, or even to make things/events/spaces observable. The various "sunshine" laws after-all had to be enacted, it wasn't part of an interpretation of the 1st Amendment.

To put a finer point on it, is recording events in public spaces legal or merely lawful?

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    In Simon Glik v John Cunniffe, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held, "It is firmly established that the First Amendment's aegis... encompasses a range of conduct related to the gathering and dissemination of information." The Supreme Court in Houchins v. KQED found "there is an undoubted right to gather news 'from any source by means within the law.'" The 1st Amendment goes well beyond the dissemination of information and protects the collection of information. In your example, the government most certainly could not aim IR beams at your lens. – Dave D Feb 2 '16 at 0:38
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First of all, the property of the University of Missouri is probably not public space.

Notwithstanding, "public space" needs to be understood as "space which is normally open to the public subject to whatever conditions the person with lawful authority over the space decides". For example, the National Parks Service can charge an entry fee and prescribe conditions of use for entering a national park; they can also require anyone to leave for breaching those rules or for safety reasons. Similarly, the City of Los Angeles can close a public street to stage a parade and emergency services usually have wide ranging powers to limit access to anywhere.

Likewise, the University of Missouri can decide what areas of their property is notionally public and what are private and the conditions that apply to access and can change this whenever they like. They can also delegate that authority to, for example, tenants.

So your question becomes "Do the protesters have lawful authority over the area?"

TL;DR

Probably not.

  • So if an administrator of the university (such as the Director of Greek Life, for instance) claims the authority to declare a campus space to be private or otherwise delegate authority to protesters, it could be lawful? – user662852 Nov 12 '15 at 16:37
  • Could be, physical violence is still assault though – Dale M Nov 12 '15 at 19:21
  • What if I was having a picnic on that space and it was otherwise wide open. Could I prevent a stranger from sitting on my blanket? Or does that stranger have the same right to the space under the blanket as the press has to the occupied field? – jqning Nov 13 '15 at 4:12
  • Interesting question ... why don't you ask it? – Dale M Nov 13 '15 at 4:38
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Your question seems to relate to privacy moreso that what is public space. In other words, does a person on the yard/quad of University of X have a right to not be photographed or videotaped. That answer is no they do not. This is a freedom of speech issue and the photographer has a right to photograph.

  • How does taking a photo become speech? – Soren Jan 25 '16 at 15:39
  • The photograph is a vehicle of information, like a word is, only a picture is said to be worth 1000 words. – Ron Royston Feb 15 '16 at 4:10
  • I doubt that is true -- I don't have the right to re-publish a book under the idiom of it being free speech -- it would be copyright violation to so -- Free speech only apply to in information I have created or have come by unencumbered by legal restrictions -- so I would argue that you can publish a photo under free speech, but only if you had the legal right to obtain that photo in the first place. Taking the photo is not speech, publishing it is. – Soren Feb 16 '16 at 0:19
  • It is not clear. This article, firstamendmentcenter.org/photography-the-first-amendment, talks about some of the issues and correlations. – Ron Royston Feb 16 '16 at 0:29

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