A few months ago, I commented on the Illinois law that says it’s illegal to make an audio recording of a police officer without their consent. We’re talking about recordings made in public. In general, you can record people – video and audio – if they are out in public. But the law (called the Illinois Eavesdropping Act) has an exception that says it’s not ok to make audio recordings of cops, even if they’re in public and on duty, unless they consent.
There has been a lot of criticism of the law. The ACLU has challenged it. There is a bill in Springfield to amend the law. And now a Cook County judge has actually ruled that it is unconstitutional.
One reason the law gets people worked up is that a violation is a Class 1 felony. You can get up to 15 years in prison if you’re found guilty of that kind of charge. The Cook County judge says that it punishes conduct that innocent. He mentioned some examples, such as recording a police officer’s instructions on how to pay a traffic ticket, or directions on how to get somewhere. Someone doing these things does not have any criminal intent.
The concerns of the cops and others who are in favor of the law make sense. They are concerned about having audio recordings used out of context. They are worried that it will impair their ability to do their jobs. I wouldn’t want this in my job either, but it’s one of those things where the arguments on the other side are simply stronger. Privacy laws are good to have, but recording someone who is out in public is different. Making it a crime, especially a felony, is overkill.
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