Last week an Illinois judge ruled that the state’s strict eavesdropping law violated the protections afforded by the U.S. Constitution. Despite this promising turn of events, the archaic Illinois law, which makes it a felony to record any person’s voice without their consent, remains in effect. The state’s case was against Robinson, Illinois, resident Michael Allison who was charged with 5 felony counts and faced up to 75 years in prison for tape recording phone calls with police. Allison claimed the police were harassing him to pay penalties to retrieve unregistered cars, which they had seized from his property. The cars, which Allison restores as a hobby, were kept on his private property and not in drivable condition at the time, and therefore exempt from any city registration requirements. The judge wrote in his decision:
“A statute intended to prevent unwarranted intrusions into a citizen’s privacy cannot be used as a shield for public officials who cannot assert a comparable right of privacy in their public duties,”
“Such action impedes the free flow of information concerning public officials and violates the First Amendment right to gather such information,”
Despite the clarity of this decision, which strikes at the heart of Illinois’ unconstitutional law, the battle is not over for Illinois residents. Just days before Allison’s hearing, the Chicago Sun-Times reported on an Illinois 7th District Circuit Court of Appeals judge who defended the very same Illinois law in a challenge brought by the ACLU.
“If you permit the audio recordings, they’ll be a lot more eavesdropping. … There’s going to be a lot of this snooping around by reporters and bloggers,” U.S. 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner said. “Yes, it’s a bad thing. There is such a thing as privacy.”
According to the Sun-Times, the Appeals Court is expected to issue a formal ruling on the ACLU’s case in the upcoming months.
Whether you are the victim of a crime or a citizen journalist attempting to expose the truth, the Illinois Eavesdropping law turns ordinary, law-abiding citizens exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights into felons. Unfortunately some states–Illinois, in particular–are more than a little dismissive of those rights we the people are guaranteed, especially that of a free press.
While each state has different jurisprudence regarding the constitutionality of filming and audio recording of individuals without their consent, it is the duty of the citizenry to remain vigilant in restoring and protecting these rights, so important that they formed the basis of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
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