Illinois is facing proposed legislation that challenges its current eavesdropping laws. Recent court case rulings in Illinois regarding the constitutionality of Illinois’ eavesdropping laws have made this a hot topic for some Illinois legislators and the ACLU.
Illinois’ eavesdropping law is one of the strictest in the country and makes it illegal to audio-record police without their consent, even when they’re working in public. Breaking the law is a felony and carries a punishment of up to 15 years in prison. The state is only one of a handful in which it is illegal to record audio of public conversations without the consent of everyone involved.
State Representative Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook has filed a bill that would permit people to audio-record a police officer working in public without the officer’s consent. The proposed bill is HB 3944. 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.”
This law has come under increased scrutiny in the last few years in courts throughout the state. Recent court rulings are evidence of this scrutiny.
In August, a Cook County jury acquitted a woman who had recorded two Chicago police internal affairs investigators she believed were trying to discourage her from filing a sexual harassment complaint against a patrol officer.
In a separate Cook County case, Chris Drew, a Chicago artist, 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.
Last September, a Crawford County judge ruled the eavesdropping law to be unconstitutional. The judge dismissed eavesdropping charges against a man accused of recording police and court officials without their knowledge and permission.
The ruling prompted Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to file notice that she will appeal directly to the state Supreme Court, but 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.
Officials with the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police say the union supports the current law because it prevents people from making baseless accusations against officers by recording them and then releasing only portions of the recording that don’t present the full context of the incident.
Nekritz’s proposed legislation would allow a person to record a phone conversation with a business if the business says it may record the call; however, she says that police officers working in public should not consider their actions private.
Clearly, both sides pose valid concerns in defense of their arguments. With the outcome of recent court rulings and with Illinois being one of a few states with this law on the books, it appears it may be difficult to defend its continued existence. However, Lisa Madigan has tremendous political clout and that alone could determine the outcome. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out.
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