A federal appeals court on Tuesday barred the enforcement of a controversial law that allowed for the arrest and prosecution of individuals who made audio recordings of police officers without their consent.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that the Illinois’ Eavesdropping Act “likely violates” the First Amendment, according to the Associated Press.
“The Illinois eavesdropping statute restricts far more speech than necessary to protect legitimate privacy interests; as applied to the facts alleged here, it likely violates the First Amendment’s free speech and free-press guarantees,” the court held (PDF).
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois challenged the law in 2010 on behalf of organizations that wished to monitor police activity to uncover misconduct.
“The Court of Appeals today reversed the trial court and ordered that the court enter a preliminary injunction enjoining States Attorney Anita Alvarez from prosecuting the ACLU and its employees for openly audio recording police officers performing their public duty,” ACLU legal director Harvey Grossman explained. “In order to make the rights of free expression and petition effective, individuals and organizations must be able to freely gather and record information about the conduct of government and their agents – especially the police.”
“Empowering individuals and organizations in this fashion will ensure additional transparency and oversight of police across the State,” he added.
The eavesdropping law makes it a crime to record “any oral communication between 2 or more persons regardless of whether one or more of the parties intended their communication to be of a private nature under circumstances justifying that expectation.” The law exempts recordings made for law enforcement purposes and recordings made for “broadcast by radio, television, or otherwise.”
However, the law prohibited anyone who wasn’t a member of the media or law enforcement from recording police officers. Last year, an Illinois man faced a felony and up to 15 years in prison for recording a traffic stop using his cell phone. The charges against him were later dropped.
“I’m in a private car on a public street and it’s a public official,” Louis Frobe told ABC7. “Why shouldn’t I be able to record what’s going on to prove my innocence?”