Local Government Law Bulletin #141

Responding to First Amendment "Audits" in the Local Government Context

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Imagine you are a local government employee, working in the lobby of a county agency. A man walks in holding a cell phone and begins filming the lobby area, including your interactions with people seeking services from the county. When you ask what he is doing, he says, “I’m exercising my First Amendment right to film inside a government building that’s open to the public.” What do you do? 

This scenario occurs at municipal and county offices, police departments, departments of social services, local health departments, and other local government buildings across North Carolina. The individuals filming in these buildings refer to themselves as “First Amendment auditors” and claim to be testing whether a local government is complying with the First Amendment by allowing them to film freely. This nationwide movement, loosely connected through social media and other online platforms, involves individuals who film their encounters with government officials and employees and subsequently post the videos online.

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