(NBC NEWS) A number of recent arrests have highlighted the role citizen smartphones can play in documenting police action, and while courts have sided with camera-wielding observers in the past, civilians who tape police making a bust may still face their own arrest, legal experts and activists say.

Several court rulings have upheld a civilian’s First Amendment rights to videotape cops performing their jobs in public places, legal experts say.

Those same federal courts, however, also found “this federal constitutional right is not absolute, particularly when it comes to filming traffic stops,” said Professor Clay Calvert, director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida. “The precise contours of the right have yet to be fully fleshed out.”

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