United Airlines incident video could have broken flight provider's rules, but not the law

They might not feel like it, but planes are private spaces and subject to whatever rules their owners choose to enforce

A video of a passenger forcibly ejected from a United Airlines flight has been condemned across the world.

It shows a man being dragged off a plane, sustaining injuries as in the process, apparently because the airline wanted to make space for it own passengers.

But some have chosen instead to focus on filming of the video itself — even claiming that the people who should actually be punished are the people that recorded it.

People have been repeatedly thrown off flights and out of airports for filming what they perceive to be problems or injustices taking place with airlines. Often, those airlines have chosen not to address the problem but rather to simply get rid of the person attempting to record it.

The rules and laws around filming on and around a plane are broad and confusing. But it appears that filming the video broke the airline's own rules, but not the law.

United Airlines' policy is specific but a little unclear. But it certainly would ban the video that was seen across the world yesterday, since it allows people to film other passengers only with their express consent.

"The use of small cameras or mobile devices for photography and video is permitted on board, provided you keep the purpose of your photography and video to capturing personal events," according to its 'Electronic device policies'. "Photographing or recording other customers or airline personnel without their express consent is prohibited."

It's not clear what "personal events" refers to, but it's likely written that way to ensure that the airline can enforce the rule however it wants. Certainly, the now infamous video involved filming both airline personnel, other customers and law enforcement without their permission, and could easily be banned under those rules.

Some Twitter users claimed that federal law permits the taking of any photos or videos on a plane, and even claimed that the people who filmed the event should be "in FBI custody".

But as United's policy makes clear, filming oneself is permitted and does not seem to contravene any laws.

The only legal restriction appears to be the use of cameras during takeoff and landing, something that applies to all electronics for safety reasons. As such, attempting to use any device as the plane takes off would be breaking the law.

But in the case of the United video, the plane was stationary at its airport before take off, and the incident happened precisely because the plane hadn't left yet. As such, anyone filming it was in violation of United's rules but not any law, and the same would be true in most other countries.

However, the plane is a private space operated by United and so it can enforce its own rules on filming as well as any other rules it wishes to put in place. It has done that repeatedly — Mashable reporter David Yi was kicked out of an airport for taking video, and host of YouTube news show The Young Turks, Cenk Uygur, was removed from a plane for the same reason.

Filming before boarding a plane is easier, especially since most commercial airports are operated as public spaces.

The TSA's own blog makes clear that it doesn't "prohibit public, passengers or press from photographing, videotaping, or filming at screening locations.

"You can take pictures at our checkpoints as long as you’re not interfering with the screening process or slowing things down," it writes. "We also ask that you do not film or take pictures of our monitors."

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