Criminal Justice

Right to Record

More war on cameras

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In March a Cook County judge ruled that the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, which makes it a crime to record public encounters with the police, is unconstitutional. The case involved Christopher Drew, a Chicago artist who was charged with eavesdropping, a felony carrying a penalty of up to 15 years in prison, after he recorded his own 2009 arrest for selling art without a peddler's license.

"The Illinois Eavesdropping Statute potentially punishes as a felony a wide array of wholly innocent conduct," Judge Stanley Sacks noted in his decision. "A parent making an audio recording of their child's soccer game, but [who] in doing so happens to record nearby conversations, would be in violation of the eavesdropping statute." 

Last year a Crawford County judge likewise ruled that the law violates the First Amendment, throwing out eavesdropping charges against Michael Allison, a Bridgeport resident who had recorded his own interactions with police officers. Sacks' ruling should improve the chances for a bill that would modify the eavesdropping law to allow the recording of police officers in public places "if the conversation is at a volume audible to the unassisted ear of the person who is making the recording."