Illinois Law: 15 Years in Prison For Recording Police

A growing number of people are recording their encounters with police as reports of police abusing their authority and power increase. People want to keep police accountable for their actions and want to have audio/video evidence in case something bad happens. Some states have laws against audio recording police officers, and Illinois probably has the harshest. People guilty in Illinois of recording police officers (audio or video with audio) carrying out their duties in public can face up to 15 years in prison. It’s considered a Class 1 felony.

But a couple years ago, the ACLU filed suit against Illinois and challenged the constitutionality of the “anti-eavesdropping” law when the state’s prosecutor Anita Alvarez was attempting to prosecute ACLU staff for recording police officers. Earlier this year in May, a lower court in Chicago actually upheld the ACLU’s position. Huffington Post reported:

 “In that critical lower-court ruling in May, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the law – one of the toughest of its kind in the country – violates the First Amendment when used against those who record police officers doing their jobs in public.”

 The May decision resulted in a temporary injunction that has prevented anyone from being prosecuted under this 50-year-old law for recording a police officer. Illinois prosecutors tried to appeal this ruling recently in a 33-page petition to the Supreme Court, but they ignored their plea. Their refusal to hear the plea or issue an opinion renders the most current opinion still in effect.

Illinois prosecutors are in favor of such a law because they say it “protects” everybody. Huffington Post continued:

“Especially in an era where recording devices can pick up conversations from far away, a lack of restraints could make civilians uneasy and make them reluctant to speak frankly to officers about criminal activity – endangering the public, the petition argued.”

 It’s quite a stretch to suggest that using recording devices with police encounters makes civilians more likely to lie to officers. First of all, criminals will likely lie whether they’re being recorded or not. Second of all, it’s usually the innocent ones that are recording because they know they’ve done nothing wrong, and they want the video evidence in case the cop tries to do something sneaky. Recording incidents with police can protect those who are innocent. If there is no audio or video evidence, then police can accuse you of something you didn’t do, as is their wont, and you would have no case against the cop when it would simply be his word against yours.

It’s no secret anymore that civilians are under constant surveillance by law enforcement at all levels. They can monitor us with surveillance cameras distributed around cities, read our e-mails and other electronic communications, listen in on our cell phone calls, etc. So, why are police so opposed to being recorded when civilians are routinely subjected to such surveillance without our consent?

What about the oft-used police aphorism, “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide?” Using law enforcement’s mentality, the fact that they don’t want to be recorded indicates that they must be guilty of something, right? Perhaps they’re the ones that are trying to hide something.