Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Illinois Law Makes It a Felony to Record Comments of Police in Public


That's right.  There is a law in Illinois that can put a person in jail for up to 15 years for recording the remarks of a police officer in public.  That means if you are videotaping police beating up protesters with your cellphone, you can be arrested and charged with a serious crime.

Police forces in various parts of the US have been trying to keep the public from recording everything from traffic stops to brutality.

And until recently, the effort to provide law enforcement officials with immunity from having their public actions documented was gaining momentum.

In May, however, the precedent setting and ominous Illinois law was struck down by a federal appellate court.  

According to the Chicago Tribune last month,

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the controversial Illinois law prohibiting people from making audio recordings of police officers in public "likely violates" the First Amendment and ordered that Cook County prosecutors be prevented from enforcing it.

The ruling from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago is the strongest blow yet to the state's eavesdropping law.

Furthermore, the Tribune noted.

In its ruling, the appeals court said the law is "the broadest of its kind" in the country and "likely violates the First Amendment's free-speech and free-press guarantees."

The law "restricts far more speech than necessary to protect legitimate privacy interests," wrote Judge Diane S. Sykes, who was joined in the decision by Judge David F. Hamilton. Judge Richard A. Posner dissented.

And fortunately, efforts by the police to arrest and intimidate people for holding them accountable for their activities through recordings are being struck down elsewhere.  As the Tribune documents,

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ruled last year that people have a right to record police working in public after a man was arrested by Boston police for recording them while they arrested another person on the Boston Common. The city settled a lawsuit stemming from the case for $170,000 last month, according to the ACLU.

In January, the Department of Justice argued in a Maryland case that "the First Amendment protects the rights of private citizens to record police officers during the public discharge of their duties."

The federal appeals court ruling was a victory for First Amendment rights and holding police accountable.  It was also a testament to the courage of Chicago street artist Chris Drew, who was charged by the Cook County State's Attorney for recording the Chicago police arresting him in 2010 for selling his artwork on a downtown sidewalk without a permit.

Unfortunately, Drew, who was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, could not personally receive acclaim for being a First Amendment hero.  He died of lung cancer one day before the appellate court ruling.

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