Can you be forced to delete media off your phone?

Can you be forced to delete media off your phone?

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - Whether you're at the F-16 crash scene or any other location, the American Civil Liberties Union of D.C. says that any image you take, is now your property.

Can anyone from the military or law enforcement force you to delete your property?

“Absolutely not. That violates both the Fourth Amendment right because of the seizure of your personal stuff, whether it's a phone or an image and also your First Amendment right to post those images online,” said ACLU of D.C. Senior Staff Attorney, Scott Michelman.

“What they can do,” Michelman added, “is ask you voluntarily only if they are crystal clear that it's absolutely your choice."

After last Wednesday's F-16 crash, a few neighbors told WUSA9 military officer did ask them to do so.

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"I was asked in a very friendly atmosphere,” said PGFD Spokesperson, Mark Brady, who says he was also asked to delete media from his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

"He approached me and asked if he could have my phone, I said no, you can't have my phone. What is it that you need it for,” Brady told WUSA9.

Still, Brady complied. He deleted the media.

Brady also says he knew the images would be saved in the trash folder and not permanently deleted, so he was still able to go back and save copies for the department's records.

"You know, at that point, I'm not there to cause any problem. I'm supposed to be a part of the solution, not the problem,” Brady said. However, the Public Information Officer (PIO for short) also says he knew the officer meant business, which is why he's asking now what if things went differently. 

As an example, he said, “If I had said no in that situation, that officer may have asked me to get out of my car, put my hands behind my back and arrest me thereby detracting now from the incident at hand.”

Since then, Brady says they've requested a mediary, someone familiar with both departments, to ask if the military officer's actions were appropriate.

RELATED: Military says mechanical failure likely cause of F-16 crash

"It's an informal request,” said Brady. “For someone to go say, because what if this had been a different scenario? What if this had been a different story and these pictures were critical us, would we have had ground to stand on and say, 'No we're not?'" 

Brady says it's an informal request they can all learn from.

The ACLU’s Scott Michelman says a court order is the only way an official can order a citizen to remove media. Otherwise it's usually up to the individual or department's discretion.

© 2017 WUSA-TV


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