Originally Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2012, 9:53 am
Last Updated: Jan. 17, 2012, 1:57 pm
Editorial: Eavesdropping bill deserves legislative support
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The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus
An Illinois lawmaker introduced legislation this week she says will fix an Illinois law that makes felons of citizens who record the police. The bill was assigned to the House Rules Committee.
On Tuesday, State. Rep.Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, introduced HB 3944, which would make significant changes in the state's eavesdropping statute. This is an issue we raised here in an editorial in late November.
Illinois' eavesdropping law is one of the strictest in the country. It makes it illegal to audio-record police without their consent -- even when they are working in public. The state is one of only a few in which it is illegal to record public conversations without the permission of everyone involved.
Recently, the law has come under attack in the courts.
According to a recent Chicago Tribune story, in August a Cook County jury acquitted a woman who had recorded two Chicago Police internal-affairs investigators she believed were trying to dissuade her from filing a sexual-harassment complaint against a patrol officer.
In September, a Crawford County judge ruled the law unconstitutional and dismissed eavesdropping chargest against a man accused of recording police and court officials without their consent.
House Bill 3944 seeks to exempt from an eavesdropping violation the recoridng of a peace officer who is performing a public duty in a public place and speaking at a volume audible to the unassisted human ear.
The legislation also would permit a nonemployee to record a conversation if a corporation or other business entity announces it may record or listen to a telephone conversation with a nonemployee under the telephone solicitation and marketing and opinion exemption to the eavesdropping statute.
According to the Tribune story, the Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago have said the union backs the curreent law because it prevents people from making baseless accusation against police officers by recording them and then releasing snippets that don't reveal the full context of the incident.
The Illinois Press Association is one of several groups backing the bill. Josh Sharp, director of governmental affairs, points out that while the law has good intentions, "it actually protects people who would harass or abuse others physically, emotionally or financially -- such as telemarketers, debt collectors and scammers who lie or harass citizens, as well as police officers who exceed their authority. Unfortunately, access typically gets shut down when a situation becomes controversial or combative. That is exactly when the tape should be rolling."
As we poiinted out in our November editorial, in addition to abridging the First Amendment rights of Illinoisans, the penalties contained in the law are severe. Violations of the act can carry up to 15 years in prison.
As technology continues to advance, there are going to be more and more of these cases popping up in the courts. Should we just hope that more judges have clear vision and declare the law unconstitutional, or should we expect our legislators to fix it?
Ironically, the same advancing technology allows police to run videotape in their squad cars to capture the voice and actions of unsuspecting citizens. We see no reason why the citizens shouldn't be able to record the police in public.
A true and complete recording of what actually happened not only serves to protect citizens from police who overstep their bounds, as well as from telemarketers and bill collectors, but also can provide the court with clear facts that also might protect others from false accusations.
We have the utmost respect for the vast majority of law-enforcement officials who carry out their difficult duties each day in a manner that is above reproach. They have little to fear from recordings that show them doing so.
We encourage Illinois House members -- especially Reps. Pat Verschoore and Rich Morthland -- to come down on the side of Illinois citizens and support this bill. We encourage senators to do the same once the bill has passed the House.