Recent court case rulings in Illinois regarding the constitutionality of Illinois’ eavesdropping law have placed this topic at the agenda forefront of some Illinois legislators and the ACLU.
Illinois’ eavesdropping law is one of the strictest in the country. The law makes it illegal to audio-record police without their consent, even when they’re working in public. Illinois is one of a handful of states in which it is illegal to record audio of public conversations without the permission of everyone involved.
Breaking this law carries a harsh penalty. It is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. This law has come under increased scrutiny in the last few years in courts throughout the state.
State Representative Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook has filed a bill that would allow people to audio-record a police officer working in public without the officer’s consent. In an interview last Thursday, Rep. Nekritz said, “I believe that the existing statute is a significant intrusion into First Amendment rights, so with the prosecutions and the court cases that have been reported about, it just seemed that this is a problem in need of a swift solution.”
Last August, a Cook County jury acquitted a woman who had recorded two Chicago police internal affairs investigators she believed were trying to dissuade her from filing a sexual harassment complaint against a patrol officer.
In another Cook County case, Chicago artist Chris Drew is facing trial for allegedly making an illegal audio recording of Chicago police during a 2009 arrest for selling art on a downtown street without a permit.
In September, a Crawford County judge ruled the law unconstitutional and dismissed eavesdropping charges against a man accused of recording police and court officials without their consent.
The latter ruling prompted Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to file notice that she will appeal directly to the state Supreme Court. Lisa Madigan said she wants to delay arguments until after a ruling from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago regarding a suit against the law filed by the ACLU in 2010.
In support of the current law are officials from the Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago. They have said the union backs the current law because it prevents people from making baseless accusations against officers by recording them and then releasing snippets that don’t reveal the full context of the incident.
Rep. Nekritz proposed legislation, HB 3944, would allow a person to record a phone conversation with a business if the business says it may record the call, but she said police officers working in public should not consider their actions private.
Clearly, both sides make valid points in defending their arguments. However, given recent court rulings and the fact that Illinois is only one of a few states with this law on the books, it appears it may be difficult to defend its continued existence. Then again, Lisa Madigan has tremendous political clout. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out.
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