Q: If I am arrested or detained while covering a protest are law enforcement officials allowed to delete photos or video from my camera?
A: No. Under no circumstance is it ever lawful for law enforcement to delete or demand that you delete photos or video or notes you have taken as part of your newsgathering efforts. Just say no. If you are in a situation where such a demand is made, state clearly (and loudly if others have their cameras out to observe) that you are a member of the press and you do not consent to any confiscation or search of your camera or other newsgathering equipment or materials.
If police feel the need to search your phone they must generally obtain a search warrant or subpoena, which you have the right to contest — and which never comes with the right to delete your work product. When covering potential hotspots, you should always disable any fingerprint or face ID unlocking feature so that you can’t be pressured or tricked into unlocking your equipment, which police will often argue indicates that you provided consent. You should also consider changing your passcode to something longer than the standard 4 or 6 digit code as police now routinely use software to crack such codes. Finally, if you can, it’s good practice while at a protest to periodically upload your photos and videos to the cloud or e-mail them back to the newsroom so that they are safe.