Originally published December 23 2014
It is now a felony to film cops in Illinois - criminalized for documenting police abuse
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) The Illinois Supreme Court struck down a state eavesdropping law earlier this year that criminalized citizen recordings of conversations with police or anyone else without their consent.
In the case, the state high court held that the old law "criminalize[d] a wide range of innocent conduct," and was a major violator of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech. In particular, IllinoisPolicy.org reported, the "court noted the state could not criminalize recording activities where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy," and that included "citizens' 'public' encounters with police."
But that wasn't the end of it. The old law is now back -- with only minor changes -- in a new piece of recently passed legislation that has already been sent to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's desk after being approved in the Senate Dec. 4. Not only did the measure pass, but it did so overwhelmingly, the state policy center noted, "with votes of 106-7 in the House on and 46-4-1 in the Senate."
However, the policy center notes, the new version reeks nearly as badly as the old law.
"A law must be clear"
The policy center reported:
Under the new bill, a citizen could rarely be sure whether recording any given conversation without permission is legal. The bill would make it a felony to surreptitiously record any "private conversation," which it defines as any "oral communication between 2 or more persons," where at least one person involved had a "reasonable expectation" of privacy.
Just when, you ask, does that other person have a "reasonable expectation" of privacy? Well, no one knows, because the bill doesn't specify (which most often means arresting officers and, eventually, judges get to fill in those blanks). The thing is, Illinois Policy notes, the legal definition of that phrase isn't even something an average citizen would know.
"A law must be clear enough for citizens to know in advance whether a particular action is a crime. This bill doesn't meet that standard, which should be reason enough for a court to strike it down if it becomes law," the policy center wrote. "But lack of clarity isn't the only problem with this bill."
Though the new measure appears designed to accommodate the Illinois high court's ruling in striking down the former law, it actually is aimed at continuing to prevent citizens from recording their interactions with law enforcement.
For instance, the center explained that the new law says it would only be a crime to record someone in cases where the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, which implies recording public encounters with police would not be a crime, making the old law's fatal constitutional flaw a non-issue in the new legislation.
Hitting offenders harder for recording authorities than civilians
But the policy center said the new bill doesn't fix that problem. Once more, citizens cannot be expected to know which specific situations lend themselves to expectations of privacy and which do not:
The Illinois Supreme Court said that police don't have an expectation of privacy in "public" encounters with citizens, but it did not explain what counts as a "public" encounter. So if this bill becomes law, people who want to be sure to avoid jail time will refrain from recording police at all, and the law will therefore still effectively prevent people from recording police.
And that, likely, is what supporters of the measure wanted all along -- to quell citizens from holding law enforcement personnel accountable.
The bill also carries hefty penalties for anyone convicted of, essentially, a failure to understand the concept "reasonable expectation of privacy." According to the policy center, anyone who unlawfully films a conversation with police or other public and/or civil servants could be convicted of a class 3 felony, which will carry jail terms of two to four years. That, too, will chill holding authorities to account.
Illegally recording private citizens, by comparison, would constitute a class 4 felony, which carries a lower range of jail time (1-3 years).
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