In Illinois, it is not illegal to photograph or videotape a police officer in public. It is illegal, however, to make an audio recording of a police officer in public.
Photographing and videotaping law enforcement officers performing their duties has been controversial. Civil rights activists and journalists argue that it’s an important check on police behavior and a way to deter abuse. They also argue that it’s their First Amendment right to record the police, including audio recordings. On the other side, many in law enforcement tend to see it as an unnecessary intrusion, and they don’t think audio recording should be added to the list of permitted recordings. One police union leader was quoted in the Trib as saying that he worries that people will splice the recordings to make cops look bad.
I say if the police can record citizens, audio and all, then we should be able to record them, as well. (The Illinois Eavesdropping Act has an exception allowing officers to record – audio included – citizens without their consent during enforcement stops.) It also just seems silly to allow video recording but no sound.
Why is the line drawn where it is?
I can see why officers wouldn’t want themselves recorded. I wouldn’t necessarily want myself recorded at work and posted on YouTube for the world to see, but I am not in a position of power. For those who are, I come down on the side of allowing audio taping. It’s not like they are being taped at home. We’re talking about police officers who are in public, on duty.
If the police are worried about anything they say being spliced, they always have the protection of choosing to make a recording themselves.
In many alleged cases of police abuse or violations of criminal law, it comes down to one person’s word against another’s. Video evidence can make a big difference – for both sides – and some say including audio makes this evidence even stronger. For the police officers involved, it could end a civil rights case before it even begins if they did nothing wrong. If you’ve ever watched Cops or any show like that, the video and audio provides a great defense to any allegation of police misconduct.
The article I was reading on this topic also brought up the fact that it’s often hard to make a video recording without audio, especially for someone who isn’t technologically inclined. Do you know how to turn the audio off on your cell phone video camera? I sure don’t, and I certainly couldn’t figure it out on the spot. This law was certainly written before anyone could think of youtube or smart phones.
The ACLU is challenging the law by asking the courts to declare that audio recordings are constitutional if the officer is in public, performing official duties, and speaking loud enough to be heard by “the unassisted human ear.”
Until the court decides, making an audio recording of the police is still a Class 1 felony in Illinois, which can carry up to 15 years in prison. I know that our legislature has some big fish to fry right now, but this could all be solved if they would just repeal this 20th century law.
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