Illinois General Assembly fails to change controversial law

The Illinois General Assembly failed this month to change the state’s tough eavesdropping law even though federal and state courts have said it violates the First Amendment. Currently, audiotaping without the permission of everyone involved in a con

versation is a felony in Illinois, making it unlawful for citizens to tape encounters with police.

Last month, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Illinois law – viewed as the toughest in the nation – could not be enforced as written because it barred recording of public officials’ actions in public. The decision was handed down just before the NATO meeting in Chicago, which attracted large protests and citizen-police confrontations.

A 2-1 majority on the federal appeals court held that the current law likely violates the First Amendment because people probably have a First Amendment right to record the things public officials do in public. Two Illinois state courts have found the law unconstitutional and a federal appeals court in Boston ruled a similar Massachusetts law unconstitutional.

In May, the Illinois House passed a bill to fix the problem by allowing citizens to record police in public as long as the recordings are not altered. But the bill ran into problems in the Senate where the sponsor wants to add provisions to ensure that police can record citizens. The disagreement could not be worked out before the session ended earlier this month.


  • Greg Todd Siuc

    The first time I heard of this law I laughed, thinking it was a joke (I’m a newcomer here).  A student reporter told me he was warned he was eavesdropping and subject to arrest as he held his iPhone and recorded a Carbondale police officer in a confrontation with a young man downtown on the strip.  I checked and was amazed to learn the officer was correct under Illinois law. 

    I’ll skip past the stipulated criticism of why the General Assembly couldn’t correct this wrong after a federal court pointed to the obvious lack of wisdom in this law. 

    What I don’t understand is why journalists in a state with the nation’s third most influential media market,  acclaimed journalism schools  and strong, well represented media organizations, not the least of which are the Illinois News Broadcasters Association and the Illinois Broadcasters Association, did not successfully smack down this law from its genesis to the quick and early death our citizens deserved it to have.

    Have even the watchdogs of our democracy reached a point of fawning, pandering support that we are too timid to cry foul when government isolates and protects itself from public view and review?

    If so, shame on us.

    Greg Todd
    Carbondale, IL