Make it unlawful to stand by and record emergency scenes, argues law professor

Academic paper proposes legal liability for those who video terrorist attacks instead of helping victims

A visiting lecturer at Georgetown University has argued there should be a new tort of “exploitative objectification of a person in need of emergency assistance.”

Law professor Amelia J Uelmen argues in her paper, ‘Crime Spectators and the Tort of Objectification,’ that in an emergency or crime-scene situation:

Instead of assisting or calling for help [some] individuals take pictures or recordings of the victims on their cell phones… Such an interaction with a victim might in certain circumstances constitute a distinct and legally actionable harm.

The paper, featured in the UMass Law Review in the US, cites many examples where bystanders have taken out their phones and started recording events instead of intervening to help.

One incident Uelmen relays concerns Jose Robles, who was attacked on his way to work in New York in 2014. An assailant approached him, hit him in the eye, and he fell to the floor. The attacker started to kick him. Robles recounted: “He wouldn’t stop. I tried to get up again, but he… started kicking me again.”

Uelmen records that, shockingly, “a number of bystanders were watching the incident unfold — some from behind their cell phones. As Robles described the scene: ‘People were watching and they were having a good time filming.'”

The law expert also says that now there is even “an internet subculture” dedicated to “those who witness violent assaults [and] stand by to record the incidents without intervening, and then they post the videos on social media.”

She references a website named WorldStarHiphop which, according to estimates, has 3.4 million visitors and 17 million page views per day.

This research may resonate with readers given the spate of recent terror attacks carried out on UK soil. In the aftermath of the Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge atrocities, social media erupted with photos and video recordings of the respective crime-scenes, some depicting seriously injured and even deceased people. Some spectators took issue; here’s a selection of tweets regarding images posted by news agency Reuters:

Currently, the legal position under the common law in both the US and the UK is that there is no positive “duty to rescue”. Law students will recall that this is not an absolute rule; omissions can amount to criminal actions in narrow circumstances (think R v Miller and R v Stone and Dobinson, for example). There are also some “good Samaritan laws” which protect people who do intervene against any liability that may arise out of any intervention.

This is not the case in a few other parts of the world. Famously in France, photographers who took snaps at the time of the fatal car collision involving the late Diana, Princess of Wales, were investigated under French laws (“non-assistance à personne en danger”) which make it a civil and criminal offence not to help someone in danger.

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21 Comments

Scouser of Counsel

Sorry, but filmed footage is invaluable to the authorities when something bad happens.

It can answer many questions that would otherwise be left to unreliable eyewitness testimony.

Often people are filming when many others are already helping and for the filmer to dive-in too may actually be counterproductive. “Too many cooks..”

It is also important countersurveillance when bystanders film incidents where those in authority are abusing their powers.

The camera doesn’t lie…

(45)(1)
anonymouse

Whilst I don’t disagree, I doubt that these voyeurs are thinking of how they can help the authorities when they are filming. All they are thinking about is how many likes and retweets their footage will get.

(10)(3)
Anonymous

To be fair, a part of me really wishes it was like when our parents were young – when you made mistakes / something embarrassing and people laughed or judged, you were ashamed of yourself, and then you moved on. Today, you do something stupid and this will haunt you for ever, with people being able to view it / link it to eachother (or your employer) for the rest of your days (and beyond).

(4)(0)
AnonNQ

I agree to an extent, I think making it criminal to film is a step too far because, as you’ve said, footage can be invaluavle. It’s the glorifying of those photos and posting them on social media that should be outlawed and they should simply be passed onto authorities for investigation purposes etc. That’s where I think the public is going wrong – they don’t care for helping with the investigation (often, not all the time) but more about being able to garner sympathy for being in the vicinity.

(4)(0)
Anonymous

On the one hand, standing by and filming incidents of violence or disaster to post online for gratification is quite awful. However, film footage of certain incidents is exceptionally important. The video that came out of Lee Rigby’s attackers showed exactly what happened, and captured on film the reason why they did it (one of the attackers decided to talk to the camera.)
Given that in UK law it is usually legal for a person to stand by and not help someone in peril, it would be quite bizarre to say that instead of standing there filming, they should have helped- or just continued to stand there. Additionally, who would bring the action?

I think public shaming of people who post graphic, gore-related photographs of horrific incidents on social media should be enough.

(13)(0)
Anonymous

Got to remember that people also exaggerate what they have seen, or repeat stories that they have heard as if they had actually been witnesses – just to get themselves on TV, or get more views on their social media.

Two of these recently: after the London Bridge attacks a man is on TV claiming that on the afternoon of the attack one of the attackers asked him where he could hire a van. This seemed immediately odd to me, the person is planning an attack and they haven’t even got the basic requirements for the task together on the day they do it!? Later reports show that the van was hired on the morning of the attack, fatally undermining the witness statement.

With this awful Grenfell tower thing, several people on television claiming that a baby had been dropped from the 7th/8th of the block, and that a man had caught the falling infant. This seems so improbable to me, without even considering whether the child could have survived such a fall. Seven or eight floors up is probably somewhere around 20-25 meters – could someone really catch a baby, safetly, from that height? I’d love it to be a true story, but where’s the man that caught the baby, and more to the point where is the baby?

(2)(0)
Just Anonymous

Scouser of Counsel said it all.

Totally unnecessary and counterproductive.

(6)(1)
Anonymous

There’s a difference between recording an incident because you want to help preserve evidence so justice is served and being a shallow nut job who lives their life through their phone. Sharing information with the police later or warning people to avoid an area is great, turning someone else’s misfortune into entertainment and social media likes is not.

(3)(0)
Anonymous

Unfortunately at least a quarter of the population live their lives through their phones, and fartbuch/twatter.

(1)(0)
Anonymous

Nope! I disagree! With terrible CCTV cameras, delayed emergency services, there is a need for people to record:
1) for records
2) objective viewing (knowing that politicians, police and judiciary *can* alter the truth. Just look at USA and how even with cameras filming police shooting people they get away with it)
3) public interest so that everyone has a chance to see what has occurred.

(0)(1)
Anonymous

A ridiculous and dangerous suggestion.

(1) As set out above, the independent recording of crimes and disasters is a social good.

(2) This would lay the way open for the criminalisation of journalists whose job it is to report on disasters (which they can’t do while simultaneously giving direct help). It is in no one’s interest that we discourage this kind of reporting, particularly as it would be easy for prosecutions to be abused for political purposes.

(3) There is no legal obligation to give help to anyone – i.e. no crime/tort of failing to give help (as there is in France, for example). The proposed law would entail the overhaul of a fundamental principle of law and would have far more wide-reaching implications than the narrow scenario imagined by this academic. It’s not wrong to question whether we do need this change, but it clearly needs to be considered far more broadly than in this paper.

(4)(0)
Anonymous

Additionally, the E&W courts have already put in place measures to stop people abusing filming/taking pictures of severe situations. Someone was just sentenced last week over the Grenfell Towers tragedy for taking a picture of a corpse and uploading it online.

(3)(0)
PC Plonker

Excuse me sir, I believe that you may be in possession of footage that will be very helpful to our investigation and may assist in bringing dangerous terrorists to justice.

Can you confirm that, sir? Good.

I am now arresting you for standing by and filming an incident. You do not have to say anything…

(3)(0)
Lord Buckethead of Commonsensery

Astounded at the stupidity of people who have lots to say but are apparently unable to read. Whilst I disagree with the paper’s proposal, it would be a TORT, ladies and gents, NOT a crime. There will be no “criminalisation” or “arrests.” SMH.

(0)(1)
Anonymous

Yes, the article title suggests that civil liability is proposed, but given that at least in the UK there is no civil equivalent to the CPS it’s hard to see how any sanction could be meaningfully enforced unless the liability were criminal.

Also the only circumstances in which it is possible to see the value of this kind of measure are cases like the terrible sexual assault in Chicago that was livestreamed on Facebook. And I presume that in the UK anyone filming such an incident would be criminally liable on principles of joint liability or secondary liability, so I don’t think that there’s any necessity for this law.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

There’s some provision for making or copying videos of some sexual offences a crime in itself, isn’t there?

(0)(0)
Henrietta

« Je me servirai désormais de cette page pour laisser les liens vers les dessins postés sur les différents sites Internet et publier quelques croquis ou inédits à lâ&eqccasion€nbsp;&raouo;Uniquem™nt ? Si oui, pas sympa pour ceux qui n’y sont pas abonnés… (si si, il en reste quelques uns)

(0)(0)

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