The ruling by the US Supreme Court to uphold a lower court's ruling that throws out Illinois' extremely strict eavesdropping law is a massive win for the First Amendment.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
- The First Amendment of the US Constitution
For years, I have been railing against the law as a travesty for the free press. There are several high-profile cases where Illinois citizens were facing at least 15 years or up to 70 years in prison for simply recording conversations with on-duty police officers.
Michael Allison in southern Illinois has a fascinating story. He was suspicious of local police trying to use beautification ordinances to take vehicles he was working on from his mother's property. After being harassed multiple times, Allison decided to bust out an audio recorder to record his conversation with law enforcement. He even busted out a recorder during court proceedings and was promptly arrested afterwards. You can hear my interview with Mr. Allison from November 6th, 2010 (mp3 download).
Another story of a woman in northern Illinois can easily send chills down your spine. Tiawanda Moore busted out a recorder to capture her conversation with an internal affairs officer telling her to drop accusations of sexual harassment by an officer who responded to a distress call Ms. Moore was present at. She was arrested and charged with violating the eavesdropping law.
Both the cases were thrown out of the courts as being unconstitutional. Sadly, the state took it to the higher courts, showing a complete lack of understanding what the free press is meant do do. Thankfully, the US Supreme Court stomped on the law.
What's in the law?
|Popular eavesdropping devices|
There are so many intricacies of the eavesdropping law here in Illinois. We could talk about two-party consent or third-party consent or whether phone calls should be private or allowed to be recorded. Illinois' law made it a felony for anybody to record anyone in private or in public without consent from all parties involved. Interestingly, police were the ones who could enforce it.
The law also makes any device that can record surreptitiously illegal. That means your smart phone that has the ability to record audio or video an illegal device.
What does this mean in the long run? It means good news for good cops and bad news for bad cops. Every individual in this country, regardless of what state you live in, has the right to be the free press. Public officials, including on-duty police officers performing their duties in public, have no expectation of privacy while in public. Period.
Reforms favoring who?
There have been some possible reforms proposed for Illinois' eavesdropping act, but the proposed reforms don't favor the public, they favor law enforcement. The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police supported changes to the law that made it easier for police to record conversations while undercover, completely negating the concept of the public being able to keep law enforcement performing duties in public in check.
But here is a common sense warning: While exercising your free press rights, do not interfere with police while they're on the scene. Film them from a distance. Have a friend film you filming them from a distance. This goes for traffic stops, beat cops talking with homeless, and riot police protecting NATO from peaceful protesters. Understand your rights and stand up for them!