Illinois’ eavesdropping law under scrutiny as NATO summit nears

Some state lawmakers hope to amend Illinois’ strict eavesdropping law before this spring when Chicago will host the NATO summit, where thousands of protesters are expected to take to the streets and possibly clash with police officers.

Unless the all-party consent law is amended before May, any person, whether a journalist or protester, caught recording a police officer on duty without consent would be charged with felony and could face up to 15 years in prison.

The proposed bill, led by State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, would amend the law to allow the recording of a police officer while on the job in a public setting – without the officer’s consent.

In early February, the bill passed out of a committee with a 9-2 vote, according to a Chicago Sun-Times article, and is now positioned for a floor vote by the full House.

If passed, it would be a major game changer for the tens of thousands of protesters who plan to take to the streets May 20 and 21 for the NATO summit. Many protesters likely own an iPhone or similar device with record-capabilities, so it’s frightening to think that anyone, including journalists who plan to attend the event, could face up to 15 years in prison for using such a device in even the most innocent circumstances.

On March 2, a Cook County judge ruled the eavesdropping law unconstitutional, reasoning that it could make “wholly innocent conduct” illegal, according to court documents. According to the documents, Christopher Drew, a street artist from Chicago, had used a device to record his Dec. 2009 arrest. Drew said he didn’t know about Illinois’ eavesdropping law.

The judge’s ruling is not the first of its kind.
In August, a Cook County jury acquitted a woman who had recorded two Chicago police officers on her smart phone when she believed they were bullying her into not filling a sexual harassment case against a patrol officer. Only a month later in September, a Crawford County judge dismissed eavesdropping charges against a man and ruled the law unconstitutional.

The ruling has led Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to ask the state Supreme Court to address whether the law is constitutional, according to a Huffington Post article.

Police officers have argued against the bill, saying that audio-recordings made during arrests could be easily misinterpreted as abuse. However, this argument is not a strong one if police officers are performing in accordance to the law and not using excessive force or other unlawful tactics to make an arrest.

President Barack Obama announced March 5 that, while the NATO summit is still scheduled to be held in Chicago, the G8 summit has been moved to a presidential retreat in Maryland.

The president’s decision to move the G8 summit to a more secluded location has been considered a victory for protesters. Many are waiting on an even more monumental victory: amending Illinois’ eavesdropping law before the summit in May.

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