SCOTUS Denies Cert in Ill. Police Recording Case

Very good news out of DC. The U.S. Supreme Court denied cert in an appeal by the state of Illinois of a lower court ruling striking down that state’s law against recording police officers on duty. That leaves the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in place.

In that critical lower-court ruling in May, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the law – one of the toughest of its kind in the country – violates the First Amendment when used against those who record police officers doing their jobs in public.

Civil libertarians say the ability to record helps guard against police abuse. The law’s proponents, however, say it protects the privacy rights of officers and civilians, as well as ensures that those wielding recording devices don’t interfere with urgent police work.

The Illinois Eavesdropping Act, enacted in 1961, makes it a felony for someone to produce an audio recording of a conversation unless all the parties involved agree. It sets a maximum punishment of 15 years in prison if a law enforcement officer is recorded.

The ban on recording someone against their will or without their permission is generally a good one, but there is a very clear and compelling need to able to record the police — especially in Illinois, where the Chicago PD has a long track record of criminal behavior.

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  • eric

    The ban on recording someone against their will or without their permission is generally a good one

    IF they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. If you stand on the street corner with a bullhorn, I think its perfectly reasonable to say you have given up any such expectation. While the police don’t actively seek public attention analogous to using a bullhorn, if they’re arresting someone on a street corner, they’ve given it up too. You want to charge someone for eavesdropping because they sough to record two officers talking in a booth over lunch? Fine, that makes sense.

  • Do you ever have an expectation that what you are saying is private from the person to whom you are speaking? In many states, it’s legal for any single party to a conversation to record what is said by all parties.

  • fastlane

    ..and in Seattle.

  • wilsim

    “The ban on recording someone against their will or without their permission is generally a good one” in private. In public, get used to it, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy.

  • In Pennsylvania, it’s illegal to make an audio recording without the knowledge of all parties involved. Video is not mentioned, to you can secretly video tape someone so long as the sound is muted.

    But I don’t get the privacy argument. What expectation of privacy does a cop have on the street? Especially if they have a camera in their squad car? Based on that logic, their privacy is violated every time they stop at an ATM.

  • baal

    ” reasonable expectation of privacy.”

    I wish we’d get away from that phrase and use normal language (and a rights balancing test) instead. That phrase has been the death of all (not just public spaces) privacy since 1967 when it arose from Katz. We should be able to record cops who are in public 1) it’s public and everyone else is recordable in public (currently) 2) a reasonable check and balance on police abuse (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?).

    Nit picking aside, whoot!