Preparing for First Amendment Audits


In recent years there has been a sharp uptick in the number of First Amendment audit posts online with significant consequences for those involved. It’s important to remember that there are typically no actual crimes committed during these videos, simply a challenge to the overwhelming majority of secure facilities that have a no photography policy. Negative interactions between security and law enforcement are aggressively encouraged and captured on video for public viewing or worse yet, legal action with any potential violation of rights.


While the usual program involves one or several non-threatening responses to security questions, it’s clear the auditors do not wish to divulge why they are taking footage and have no intention of ceasing the activity in question. The confident and persistent responses from the auditor irks the security personnel engaged into stating something that may not be legally accurate i.e. ‘you aren’t allowed to film our property’. From there the dialogue usually deteriorates.


Keys to Preparation


Understand the Laws and Limitations – First and most importantly is that all staff need to be knowledgeable of basic Constitutional law, specifically the freedom of the press and how that translates to what these people are doing. Additionally, it’s imperative that security personnel know their legal rights and they do not exceed those. Any actions taken beyond legal authority can have disastrous financial and legal consequences for those involved and may attract additional scrutiny and audit efforts resulting in reputation damages.


Act with Diplomacy and Respect – Equally as important to knowing the legal rights in this situation is the use of diplomatic and non-threatening language when interacting with the auditor(s). The situation can immediately escalate depending on the nature of the encounter. If inaccurate statements are made they will be further challenged and highlighted for the final product footage.


Update Post Orders – You have to have up to date information and procedures in the post orders to quickly and properly address instances of suspicious photography and media requests. Surveillance and first amendment audits are very different incidents, but it’s important that security staff recognize the differences and how to address them. While it’s important for security staff to inquire to the nature of the visit and reason for filming, the auditors do not have to answer or stop if on public grounds. Knowing how to proceed after that is critical and practice drills can be of great benefit.


Update Contact Info for Media Requests – Almost all employees and contractors are not specifically designated to speak ‘on behalf of the company’. Ensure that this is well known and easily available to counter difficult or challenging questions from a first amendment auditor or media member when needed.


Law Enforcement Liaison – It is always a best practice to collaborate with your local law enforcement for emergency events and assistance. This may be especially handy in the event of protests or labor actions where disruption of business may be the intended goal. In fact, lawful demonstrations on public land may require a permit and local police may inform you in advance allowing for some preparation time.


While some of these elements are specifically to ensure readiness for First Amendment Audits, many could be utilized to prepare for labor actions or larger demonstrations or protests.