Federal appeals court bans enforcement of Illinois eavesdropping law
The ruling from the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago is the strongest blow yet to the law, which is one of the strictest in the country and makes it illegal for people to audio record police officers in public without their consent.
The ruling follows last month’s announcement by Chicago officials that they would not enforce the law during the May 20-21 NATO summit when potentially thousands of people armed with smart phones and video cameras are expected to demonstrate in the city.
The ruling from the appeals court stems from a lawsuit filed in 2010 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. The suit sought a preliminary injunction barring Cook County prosecutors from enforcing the law.
A federal judge denied the request, prompting the ACLU to appeal to the 7th Circuit. In its ruling today, the appeals court agreed with the ACLU, saying, “The Illinois eavesdropping statute restricts far more speech than necessary to protect legitimate privacy interests.”
The ACLU of Illinois welcomed the ruling. Its legal director, Harvey Grossman, said that the “widespread accessibility of new technologies make the recording and dissemination of pictures and sound inexpensive, efficient and easy to accomplish.”
“In order to make the rights of free expression and petition effective, individuals and organizations must be able to freely gather and record information about the conduct of government and their agents – especially the police,” Grossman said in a statement.
Public debate over Illinois’ law has been simmering since last summer.
In August, a Cook County jury acquitted a woman who had been charged for recording Chicago police internal affairs investigators she believed were trying to dissuade her from filing a sexual harassment complaint against a patrol officer.
Judges in Cook and Crawford counties later declared the law unconstitutional, and the McLean County state's attorney cited flaws in the law when he dropped charges in February against a man accused of recording an officer during a traffic stop.
Officials at the Cook County state’s attorney’s office were still reviewing the 66-page ruling and were not yet prepared to comment on it, spokeswoman Sally Daly said.
Meanwhile, state legislators are considering a bill that would allow people to record police officers working in public.