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Fact-Check Friday: Does REMSA Have a Right to Try to Stop Videotaping in Public Spaces for Patient Privacy Reasons?


Yesterday, a REMSA employee told me to stop videotaping a police detainment of an individual who had been punching cars, yelling, throwing stuff and who then passed out on a sidewalk in Midtown. Police said they received at least eight calls reporting the man’s assaultive behavior.

The REMSA employee called the individual a “patient” before he was in the ambulance, or even in REMSA custody, and asked me to stop videotaping.

He cited HIPAA, or the “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996,” as a reason. The full exchange is in the video below.

The question is: Do the patients rights under HIPAA override First Amendment rights on a public street? The answer is no, according to attorneys.

While HIPAA is designed to protect patient privacy among doctors, insurance companies and so on, HIPAA has been used in at least one instance to squelch public videotaping of scenes, such as the one in the video below.

First Amendment attorney Marc Randazza of Las Vegas, however, said there’s no basis for REMSA to tell anyone to stop videotaping or photographing in a public setting.

“He has no right to try to stop you from filming in a public place,” Randazza said.

Timothy Broadway, with the Reno Police Department, said that there’s no policy that would prevent a citizen from videotaping in a public place.

“The First Amendment gives you that right,” he said. We’ve seen it increasingly since the Michael Brown situation, he added.

According to Curt Varone, attorney with the Legal Liability and Risk Management Institute, which trains emergency personnel on such matters, “Courts have said people have a First Amendment Right to take pictures at emergency scenes. What takes precedence, the First Amendment or HIPAA?

Emergency responders do not have a First Amendment right to take photos at emergency scenes,” he wrote. “That right is limited to citizens who are not acting on behalf of an emergency response organization. Thus an off-duty emergency responder may have the right to take photos at an emergency scene, while an on-duty responder would not.”

UPDATE: Barry Smith of the Nevada Press Association had this to add:

“There is generally a poor understanding of what HIPAA covers and doesn’t. It doesn’t prohibit you from filming events on a public street. What it probably does prohibit is you walking over and sticking your camera in the back of the ambulance, where a patient would have a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Bob Conrad
Bob Conradhttp://thisisreno.com
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR and sits on the boards of the Nevada Press Association and Nevada Open Government Coalition.