What to do if police ask for your camera

Gopro helmet camera 2015 ban

You may have just had a crash or been spotted doing something illegal by the police who have pulled you over and see that you have an action camera strapped to your bike, helmet or body.

They ask for the camera or SD card, or they simply remove it.

What do you do?

Riders have been fined around the world by the self-incriminating evidence of an action camera.

In January 2016, a 60-year-old British motorcyclist was sentenced to two years’ jail for dangerous driving based on evidence from his helmet camera SD card.

In another UK case, a rider dumped the SD card, but it was later found by police in a tunnel. He and several of his companions were later taken to court and fined and even banned from riding for a number of traffic offences.

There have also been several cases of Australian riders being fined for evidence collected from confiscated cameras and SD cards.SD Card in a GoPro - jail camera

Police powers

Police can legally ask for your camera and SD card if they “reasonably suspect” it could contain evidence a minor traffic or serious offence has been committed.

A crash is a good example of where police might exercise their right to collect relevant evidence.

In some places, such as America, police may first have to obtain a search warrant. In Australia, they don’t.

Without wishing to pervert the course of justice, we suggest you extract the SD card or at least turn off your camera to avoid attracting the attention of the police.

If they see the camera is off or that the SD card is missing, they might just assume you weren’t recording.

However, we do not suggest you lie and say you don’t have it or that it wasn’t recording. That’s a whole other offence.

Even if you want to use the evidence later in your defence, your lie will then be obvious and police could charge you for providing false information.

If they ask for the camera or card, you can politely tell the police you will gladly make it available after it is copied. 

That may not work, unless you have been syrupy sweet.

Matt's HJC helmet camera

Don’t be obstinate. That could be seen as refusing to hand over evidence and you could be charged with obstructing a police officer in the execution of their duty.

That would result in a court appearance where you could cop a fine of a few hundred dollars,

The proper procedure is to let them take it and then challenge it in court. But, of course, the horse has already bolted.

Another legal opinion

However, one legal advisor suggest that would offend the right to not incriminate yourself.

“But there is the law and there is reality,” he notes. “Coppers will usually do whatever is easiest to ‘prove’ an offence. If that entails bullying a motorist into handing over an SD card, that is what the coppers will do.”

If your camera or SD card has been confiscated by the police or handed over to them, ask the officer to make a note of it.

Police must supply you with a receipt of the item as “soon as possible”. It must also be returned to you in 30 days unless it is to be used as evidence. In that case, police have to apply for an extension through court.Helmet camera - road rules

If the matter goes to court, your legal representative can also ask for the card or, at least, a copy to be supplied for your use as evidence.

Incriminating evidence

But here’s the scary thing: It’s not just your SD card that could incriminate you.

As bikes become more technologically advanced, their ECU or data recorder could also supply vital information to police.

They can also obtain incriminating evidence from your GPS or even various smartphone apps that track your ride.

Please note:

  • This article is based on several other articles already published on Motorbike Writer as well as information from police and lawyers, including East Coast Lawyer Tina Davis and assistant Robyn Temperton. It is not legal advice. For legal advice, you should engage the services of a lawyer.
  • If you have any further questions about your legal rights, Tina says you are welcome to email her or contact her at 1300 720 544.
  • Since the law can be challenged and is open to legal interpretation, you may disagree with many of the points raised here. Please feel free to comment in the “Leave a reply” section below.

26 Comments

  1. In and ideal world, they would not need to ask for these SD cards.
    No one would break the law.
    No one would be policing and giving out tickets (wonder how that would affect the budget)
    No problems at all.
    But they have a job to do. Thankless one at times. However, they know that or rather…should.
    See the biggest problem nowadays is simly… Trust.
    Some have it for them.
    Others do not.
    Each have reasons, some valid, some pre-exisiting, some for the wrong reasons etc etc
    This is not a worry for the extremes… bad people doing the wrong thing, don’t care about this and will simply get away with anything they can.
    That goes for cops as well law breakers.
    Both giving a negative reputation to each other’s group (for lack of a better word).
    The lines of grey extend in each direction from there.
    So no ones opinion could be that wrong, because in the end, it comes down to what you done and what you’ve experienced that defines your opinion.
    What if you rarely do the wrong thing but get harassed by the police for your appearance and style of bike?
    What if you’re well spoken, well groomed individual…or a very attractive young lady, riding a 250cc but get away with all manner of road etiquette due to a human (police officer) letting you slide? It’s all relative.
    I do not agree with them demanding nor taking the SD cards, let alone the cameras.
    However if they ask for it, and follow procedure, i’d be more than obliged to assist.
    So i agree that we still need basic rights.
    Right or wrong, we do.
    Losing those. they black and white will be become more distinct. IMHO.

    I once heard a good perspective for the general big picture.
    A young man was truly pissed for getting yet another speeding ticket.
    Hated the cops, and had no issue verbally expressing that day at work.
    A co-worker said “what’s all this about F@#king cops etc?”
    (young man replied) “got a ticket from them, and i wasn’t even doing the speed they said”
    “well…that sucks…but have you ever, EVER actually gone around speeding and didn’t get caught?”
    “Heh…Yeah…HEAPS of times. Still will”
    “Well alright then. You’ve gone around in the past and still not yet prepared to stop speeding.
    You didn’t get caught for all of those and probably get away with heaps of others, so what’s the problem then. They got you once…which you may not have done… but you’ve gotten away with so much more. Then you say you HATE them. Just think of how lucky you are to NOT get caught all those other times, and maybe be grateful for still having a licence”.

    It’s a good point, and great perspective.
    It doesn’t fit every single issue. Every ticket. Every unfairness, such as road rage being dismissed when it was a car against a motorcycle.
    But sometimes, it has helped take the sting out of a ticket. Or 3. Or… (you get my meaning)

    Trust given and earned?
    Government corporations enlisting people as revenue collectors perhaps?
    Much deeper rabbit holes are both,

  2. I actually have a decoy 4GB SD card stuck to the helmet side of the camera so that when they ask for the card, I give them the 4GB SD card with nothing on it. Then I ask them politely if I can keep the camera (with actual SD card still inside) for insurance purposes and they say yes. For extra authenticity, ask them to give you a receipt so you can stop off and pick it up when they’ve finished looking at the empty SD card.

    easy.

  3. Why don’t people take responsibility for their actions? If you were riding like a dick and caught it on camera, and the cops ask to see the camera after they stop you, or a crash, don’t think about them being dickheads, think instead “yeah, I’m a chump and I’m gonna own this result”.

    So many people don’t want to see what they create and are ignorant to the point of being an arsehole and belligerent. We know riding with traffic is unpredictable, we know cops often get involved, we know we’re running a camera, we know we put ourselves in the situation. Farrkkk, own it!

    1. This is exactly right. People behave like kids and then moan about a nanny state. Accept responsibility for your actions… you decide to ride powerful bikes, decide to twist the throttle, and decide whatever other traffic laws you break. And then blame the pigs for catching you! Grow up.

      1. I guess you expect everyone to think you have never committed any kind of offence or crime? if you have, an didn’t get caught, why not? why didn’t you confess? its about the same as handing over incriminating evidence …

        Maybe there should be a camera in your home to – you know – to collect evidence of you beating your wife …

        1. Whilst not advocating extreme lunacy, why does society and its draconian laws must restrict our behaviour to the lowest common, if such thing still exists, denominator!
          Most of us able to judge our own abilities, and if having greater abilities then the rest then why restrict them. All within reason of course, but reason is difficult to judge and objective. Much easier to set over the top rules and make every one adhere. I call BS!

  4. You do not legally have to hand over your camera or sd card in NSW unless there has been a crime committed and last time I looked, a traffic fine is not a criminal offence

    1. Craig, this is exactly what I said (amongst other things) to the two Motorcycle Officers earlier this year. His first question was “is that thing recording?” to which I responded “yes”.
      He then said “I will be taking a copy of that” and I just flatly said “no”, twice as he made out like he didn’t hear the first ‘no’.
      Ticket received etc and he kept crapping on about how he can take the footage to which I informed him “I am not ignorant to what you can and cannot do, and this footage should you want it must be obtained by the proper measures. You fill out a form for me, I fill out a note in your official notebook. I make a copy and you can come and retrieve it”.
      His response was “you can just go home and erase it!”
      They should only be asking for a copy, not the raw footage.
      He then continued to say he can take it if it contains evidence of a criminal offence.. blah, blah… BINGO!
      I then asked him “since when did a traffic infringement or traffic offence become a criminal offence of either summary or indictable calibre for you need a copy or let alone the raw footage?
      He smiled, said have a nice day and walked away.

  5. I’ve thought about this quite a lot (which probably means I’m way off target), BUT, Plod demanding your camera, usually because he/she is just trying one on, IMHO is an invasion of personal privacy.

    Unless they have either a warrant, or can present a very good reason to believe a law has been broken, IMHO they have no right to ask any such thing. If they do have this ‘right’ (by a nod and a wink from above), then it’s police state mentality to suit the situation.

    How far back do you go?
    Mobile phone contents? Mobile device contents? You wallet? (Orrr noww Sirrrr – we’re lookin’ forrr $20 notes from bank robbery – empty Urrr wallet please).
    Your car? Your house? Your diary?

    To my mind, all these personal possessions are part of your private personal space that begins within your home. There, police cannot enter unless either invited, or have a legally justifiable reason to enter. Further, if the “legally justifiable reason” proves to be a falsehood, for whatever reason, the home owner has legal grounds for compensatory action against the Police eg to sue.

    So if Plod ‘demands’ your camera and it shows no illegal behaviour, then sue them, and tell them you will. Challenge their assertion of interfering with police in their line of duty. Record the incident with another camera / voice recorder etc.

    I have a ‘dash cam’ for the same reason as motorists: to safeguard myself in case of accident or police bullying.

    If they protest, ask why they have body cameras or dash cams. Ask to see the contents of these devices. If they refuse, ask why.

    Police are NOT above the law, and can never be given the faintest glimmer of a reason to think they are.

    But they persist: everyone has seen Plod breaking just about every traffic law, especially speeding, just because they can. This lot has more hide than Nellie the Elephant, more front than a rat with a gold tooth, and not much integrity. Challenge any B/S on every occasion.

    That’s my take on the situation. Interested to hear from any legal minds.

    JC

      1. The Law is a concoction made to suit a corporate government and all their agendas.
        Some will break the law.
        Some will rock the boat.
        Some will be sheeple.
        So ones opinion on how they see the grey (not black and white) is completely relevant.
        Know one expects everyone to agree.
        That’s life.

  6. They will have to pry it from my dead hands!
    Don’t they have enough cameras,lazar,etc in their vehicles!!!!!!!
    Oh! while the scumbag is robbing my place they want to book me for 10-15 above the limit?
    Who is the criminal me (did i hurt or cause damage to someone or their property NO!) or the bloke breaking in,
    as they say it’s not rocket science.
    I guess it’s like the song from the 60’s “stop the world I want to get of”

      1. At what point was his riding style etc mentioned?
        You seem to have a problem with people having their own opinion, Jonno.
        I don’t agree nor disagree with him.
        But i definitely see your stand out pointless rebuttals, that simply wish to diminish other’s opinions.
        Maybe make your own comment, instead of simply ridiculing others.
        (yes i read your chime in above, but again that was replying)
        See mine below.

  7. I ride with a Garmin. In case of a Police check I usually ‘reset’ all the fields recording speed data. This requires only two input commands on the touch-screen and I am not self-indiscriminating.

  8. Ha, and when Victorian police are handed evidence, that is, well lets just say pretty damning evidence of dangerous driving, 4 months later still no charges.

    Oh that’s right silly billy me, the damning evidence was against a car driver, not a motorcyclist.

  9. Well I’d be stuffed, I have Satnav, Black Knight Tracking, bike cam, helmet cam and phone tracking yes officer which one do you want? Not that I break the law anyway.

  10. Use hidden cameras!
    But have one in plain view that’s turned off with a flat battery.
    That way they may not look for the hidden cameras and if they take the visible one you can honestly say the battery is flat so there’s nothing on it.

  11. I wanna be STIG….or develop invisible powers & a licence plate that flips backwards like in Get Smart & also be heat detector repellant from the eyes in the skies. Why can’t we just enjoy life and all of it’s ups & downs like we are suppose to. Just got all too techo & serious for me. Maybe just become a magician and suddenly produce a squeaky clean sd card..all of a sudden. !

      1. Stick it in a stamped, self addressed envelope and seal it. Apperantly, useless spellcheck, the police can not touch it then. Any legal eagles here the can confirm or deny this?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *