Illinois judge rules state eavesdropping law unconstitutional

By Muriel Kane
Friday, March 2, 2012 21:59 EDT
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Occupy Chicago by Michael Kappel via Flickr
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The Occupiers who are planning to descend on Chicago in May to protest the G8 and NATO meetings can breathe a sign of relief today. The Illinois law which made it a felony to make audio recordings of police officers without their permission has been found unconstitutional by a state judge, who ruled that it could have the effect of criminalizing “wholly innocent conduct.”

As explained by the Chicago Tribune’s Megan Crepeau, “The whole thing hinges on the idea that police officers have an expectation of privacy as they perform a public, taxpayer-funded duty. This law, in effect, punishes the public for holding its officials accountable to a public standard. The original intent — to protect private conversations from being recorded — has nothing to do with that.”

The decision came in the case of an artist named Christopher Drew, who was arrested in December 2009 for selling art without a permit. According to Kevin Gosztola at FireDogLake, “Drew, who has a history of challenging the city’s restrictions on the selling of art, was peddling silk-screened patches for $1 in an act of civil disobedience. A First Amendment lawyer and a team of photographers filmed his arrest. The police let the filming go, and Drew was arrested. When it was time for Drew to face his charges, he found out he had been given a Class 1 felony charge for violating the Illinois Eavesdropping Act and filming his arrest. This meant he faced a possible sentence of fifteen years in prison.”

Gosztola notes that Chicago police have traditionally viewed the eavesdropping law as a convenient way to avoid lawsuits for police misconduct. “Police are known to enforce the law themselves,” he comments. “In the final days of January, Occupy Chicago was out protesting in the city when a police officer took a camera from someone who was live streaming the action and deleted the video. He told the live streamer, Keilah, that she could have been charged with a felony.”

Gostola concludes that police may still attempt to arrest protesters under the law but that “any such chargtes are unlikely to stick.”

One of the first to tweet news of the judge’s decision was noted livestreamer Tim Pool, who was born in Chicago and lived there until he set off for Zuccotti Park last fall. The judge’s decision may prove to be more significant for Pool and his fellow citizen journalists more than for anyone else.

Photo by Michael Kappel from Flickr

Muriel Kane
Muriel Kane
Muriel Kane is an associate editor at Raw Story. She joined Raw Story as a researcher in 2005, with a particular focus on the Jack Abramoff affair and other Bush administration scandals. She worked extensively with former investigative news managing editor Larisa Alexandrovna, with whom she has co-written numerous articles in addition to her own work. Prior to her association with Raw Story, she spent many years as an independent researcher and writer with a particular focus on history, literature, and contemporary social and political attitudes. Follow her on Twitter at @Muriel_Kane
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