IT WAS THE VIDEO that shocked the nation.
The 1991 beating of Rodney King and the acquittal of three of four officers a year later sparked riots throughout Los Angeles that left 53 people dead and $1 billion in property damage.
But had it not been for the infamous video shot by George Holliday, a man who lived nearby, would anyone have believed King's story?
"It was most important in Rodney King. It's so powerful because people would not believe it," said Samuel Walker, author and commentator on policing, criminal-justice policy and civil liberties. "In terms of holding the officer accountable, [recording is] extremely important."
More recently, police departments across the country have been invoking wiretap laws, which typically apply to conversations and interactions in which there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, and arresting people for filming public officials in a public place. Watchdogs argue the arrests are a violation of First Amendment rights.
Here are recording conflicts in several states:
* Miami Beach: After a fatal police shooting of a motorist in May, police faced accusations that they intimidated witnesses and destroyed cellphones after officers spotted Narces Benoit recording.
According to the Miami Herald, Benoit was ordered to stop recording but he stashed his phone's memory card in his mouth as officers pressured him for the video, which later aired on CNN.
"The police tell people they can't record. It happens frequently," said David Rocah, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in Maryland. "Most people when police say so, they obey because they have badges and guns."
But Rocah said there is no law that makes it a crime and police should be disciplined when they "act in excess of their authority."
* Boston: Attorney Simon Glik was recording the arrest of a man in a park in 2007 when police arrested him. Criminal wiretapping charges against him were dismissed. Glik teamed up with the ACLU and a suit is still pending. Last week, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ruled unanimously that Glik had the right to videotape police in public.
* Illinois: Several people have been arrested and charged with violating the state's Eavesdropping Act, including Christopher Drew, who used a digital recorder during his 2009 arrest for selling art without a permit, and Tiawanda Moore, who used her Blackberry last year to record Internal Affairs investigators who spoke with her when she filed a sexual-harassment complaint against a cop.
The ACLU is challenging the law, which requires all parties to consent to audio recording in public and private conversations. Additionally, recording an officer without his or her consent is a Class 1 felony, which the ACLU argues violates the First Amendment.
* Abington, Md.: Motorcyclist Anthony Graber posted a video on YouTube that he had taken last year with his helmet camera when he was stopped by a plainclothes state trooper who drew a gun on him. Graber faced up to 16 years in prison for motor-vehicle offenses and for allegedly violating state wiretap laws for recording the trooper without his consent. Officers raided his parents' home and confiscated his camera and computer. The charges were later dismissed.