Balancing Client Privacy with First Amendment Rights in Local Health Department Clinics
April 30, 2021
A county health department contacted the Network for guidance on whether the department could prohibit the recording of video and/or photography in their facilities. The question arose after an individual entered their WIC facility and began filming and harassing clients and staff. Police who responded to a call from the staff informed the staff that they could not lock their doors or refuse entry to a person since it was considered a public building.
This question raises complex and contestable legal claims that lack clear precedent. Nonetheless, as explained in detail below, the Network did not identify any legal barriers to limiting access to WIC activities, as long as the restrictions are content neutral (i.e., apply equally to all). Therefore, the department can post signs prohibiting filming of areas serving clients, and limit access to clients obtaining services and those who need to accompany them.
To answer the request, the Network focused on the key legal and policy questions. Those involve competing privacy and First Amendment claims.