CMU's Absolute Ban on Videotaping Without Permission is Unconstitutional

November 27, 2007

Detroit -- In a letter sent to Central Michigan University, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan urged the president to recognize the right of individuals to videotape public figures in public places on the campus.
Since August, Dennis Lennox, a junior at CMU, has periodically videotaped Gary Peters, a Democratic Congressional candidate and CMU professor while on campus.  On October 15, 2007, University officials gave Lennox a letter barring him from videotaping anyone on campus without expressed permission. The ACLU of Michigan is asking CMU to lift this restriction because it violates Lennox’s First Amendment right to engage in political advocacy.

“While some may find Mr. Lennox’s method of videotaping and posting recordings on the Internet objectionable, it is a protected means of engaging in political expression,” said Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director. “Even Gary Peters has recognized that the university cannot constitutionally prevent a student from videotaping a political candidate in public areas of the campus.”

In an Associated Press article published on October 25, 2007 entitled “Student Hounds Prof Running for Office,” Gary Peters acknowledged that the University’s recording policy is too restrictive as applied to people of public interest and that Lennox’s videotaping has value as part of political discourse.

Lennox is currently the Campaign Director for a student organization called Students Against Gary Peters. As part of his role with the organization, Lennox has videotaped and questioned Peters in public on the University campus. Lennox has never recorded any private discussions or activities and Peters has never asked Lennox to stop recording during this encounters.

These videos are widely distributed on the Internet through Websites such as www.youtube.com, www.facebook.com and on a Website called “The Peters Report” organized by the Students Against Gary Peters.

“As a student, it is incredibly frustrating that a public university would attempt to silence me in this way,” said Lennox. “It’s important that CMU respects not only my rights as an individual, but the constitutional rights of its 20,000 students.”

Following the encounters with Peters, Lennox was given a letter by CMU officials stating, “You may not follow anyone around campus with a recorder running without receiving that person’s permission.” The letter further claimed that “Videotaping others around campus and/or videotaping them as they go about their normal activities is not expressive activity.” Finally, the letter threatened Lennox with sanctions under the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Disciplinary Procedures if he engaged in any of the prohibited activities listed in the letter.

To read the letter sent to Central Michigan University, please visit: http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/cmulennoxletter.pdf

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