War on Cameras

SCOTUS Won't Let Cook County Prosecute People for Recording Cops


Today the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review an appeals court decision that blocked enforcement of the Illinois Eavesdropping Act against people who record police on the job in Chicago and other parts of Cook County. Under the law, the strictest of its kind in the country, recording cops without their permission is a Class 1 felony, punishable by four to 15 years in prison. Last May the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, responding to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, ruled that the statute "restricts far more speech than necessary to protect legitimate privacy interests" and "likely violates the First  Amendment's free-speech and free-press guarantees" when applied to "people who openly record police officers performing their official duties in public." (State judges in Cook and Crawford counties also have deemed the Illinois Eavesdropping Act unconstitutional.) The 7th Circuit ordered the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to enjoin enforcement of the law against the ACLU's police monitors until the case is resolved. Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez asked the Supreme Court to override the 7th Circuit.

Even when the law is not on their side, of course, cops may still hassle you for daring to record them on the job. Photography Is Not a Crime provides yet another example

Daniel J. Saulmon was charged with resisting, delaying and obstructing an officer, but the video shows he was standing well out the way of a traffic stop and was only arrested when he failed to produce identification to an approaching officer….

There is no law in California that requires citizens to produce identification….

Prosecutors have already dropped the charge against Saulmon as well as a few other minor citations relating to his bicycle such as not have proper reflectors on the pedals.

California's wiretap law makes it a crime to record "confidential communications" without the consent of all parties. Communications are considered confidential when there is an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which includes California, has recognized a First Amendment right to record police in public.

Radley Balko chronicled "The War on Cameras" in the January 2011 issue of Reason. Last spring Steve Silverman suggested "7 Rules for Recording Police." More from Reason TV:

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  1. They may not prosecute, but that won’t stop them from locking you up in jail for a while before dropping charges.

    1. You can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride…

    2. Don’t do the (non)crime if you can’ do the (very real) time. Geez.

    3. Funny how laws only work when both the citizens and the enforcers obey them.

  2. ew other minor citations relating to his bicycle such as not have proper reflectors on the pedals

    Fucking pigs, man. Rack up as many charges as possible and see which ones stick.

    When was the last time someone in CA got a citation for improper reflectors on bike pedals without it having to do with some asshole cop trying to make things as difficult as possible for the citizens he or she is bound to “protect”?

    1. This. I’ve grown to hate cops more and more the older I get, even though I’ve had a few do some solids (like the three days in a row I got stopped on my Ninja going WAY illegally fast…and they just let me go. I know it’s because they think I’m a kid, and when they find out it’s a 50 year old man…no fun).

      So anyway – fuck tha poe lease. Hate ’em and their “us versus the ‘civilians'” and “we’re above the law” bullshit. Fuck ’em.

    2. It shouldn’t be surprising that such laws are arbitrarily enforced–that’s why they exist in the first place.

  3. Even when the law is not on their side, of course, cops may still hassle you for daring to record them on the job.

    Or pretty much anything else that rubs them the wrong way or tickles their fancy. (TERRY STOP!) Oh, sure, the charges against you might be dropped later, but you’ve still been detained.

  4. alt-alt-text

    “I’m a loser, baby…
    So don’t you dare film me…”

  5. A denial of certiorari is not usually a huge deal because in a future case, the Supremes could still (in theory) hold that there is no right to record police performing their duties in public. However, this development comes on a growing wave of appellate decisions favoring this kind of right and/or hostile to arrests based on such charges.

    So it is an important development at an important moment. Just as the internet genie got out of the bottle and radically altered a new generation’s ideas about what should be public and what private, the ubiquity of recording devices together with the knowledge on the part of LEO’s that they can lawfully be recorded by a suspect or others in most pre-arrest scenarios should lead to fewer instances of abuse of the police power by individual officers.

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