Illinois Supreme Court strikes down
eavesdropping law as too broad
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[March 21, 2014]
By Eric M. Johnson
(Reuters) — The Illinois Supreme Court on
Thursday struck down as unconstitutional a state eavesdropping law, one
of the strictest in the United States, saying it criminalized recording
a sweeping array of innocent behavior such as fans cheering at an
The ruling is a big blow to the 1961 Illinois Eavesdropping Act,
which had made it a felony to record audio of conversations unless
all parties consented, a deeply controversial restriction in an age
of ubiquitous mobile phones.
Illinois' top court, in twin unanimous rulings on related cases
dealing with audio recording, said the state's provision was overly
broad and a violation of constitutional guarantees of free speech
and due process.
The law criminalized recording conversations "that cannot be deemed
private," such as a loud street argument, a political debate on a
college campus and screaming fans at an athletic event, among other
scenarios, the court said.
"None of these examples implicate privacy interests, yet the statute
makes it a felony to audio record each one," Chief Justice Rita
Garman wrote for the court.
"Judged in terms of the legislative purpose of protecting
conversational privacy, the statute's scope is simply too broad,"
The U.S. Supreme Court in November 2012 let stand an earlier ruling
by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago that blocked
enforcement of the law, which it called "the broadest of its kind"
and said it likely violated the First Amendment.
The law had been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union of
Illinois, which was pursuing a Chicago-area "police accountability
program" and sought to preempt the government from interfering with
its recording of police officers.
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Crafting new eavesdropping laws falls to Illinois lawmakers.
Thursday's rulings upheld lower court decisions that dismissed two
cases. In one, a woman was charged with eavesdropping for
surreptitiously recording phone conversations with a Cook County
administrator over the policy of correcting court transcripts and
posting them on a website.
In the other case, a man was charged with eavesdropping for
recording a conversation between himself, a judge, and an attorney
without consent during a child support matter.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)
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