THEY DON'T WANT TO BE ON TAPE: Illinois' eavesdropping law was mainly
used against people taping cops or lawmakers.
The law was created to protect public officials, police officers,
elected representatives and the like from the public. But the Illinois
Supreme Court protected the public from those officials this week in
striking down the law.
The Supreme Court used its ruling in an eavesdropping case, People v
Annabel Melongo, to end the statute Thursday.
"The statute as now written deems all conversations to be private and,
thus, not subject to recording absent consent," the court wrote in its
opinion. "When that policy criminalizes a wide range of innocent
conduct; however, it cannot be sustained."
The court explained that Illinois' eavesdropping law could make just
about anyone with a cellphone and YouTube account a felon.
"The statute criminalizes the recording of conversations that cannot be
deemed private: a loud argument on the street, a political debate on a
college quad, yelling fans at an athletic event, or any conversation
loud enough that the speakers should expect to be heard by others," the
ruling states. "None of these examples implicate privacy interests, yet
the statute makes it a felony to audio record each one."
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Springfield attorney Don Craven said one case that previously lead to a
broadening of the statute involved a man who was arrested and recorded
the conversation of two officers on the ride to the police station.
"The criminal charges that have been brought against
people for eavesdropping, I think, have almost exclusively involved
citizens taping public officials doing official duties," he said.
Melongo spent almost two years behind bars after she recorded phone
calls with the Cook County court reporter's office. In addition to
recording the calls, Melongo also posted them on her blog.
The court also struck down a provision of the eavesdropping law that
made it a crime to publish those recorded conversations.
Craven said citizens now have another tool to hold public officials
accountable, but he expects state lawmakers to put some limits on
public and private speech.
"Think of the stupid conversations you had with somebody in the
vegetable section of the grocery store, and that got taped," Craven
said. "And used in whatever context, whoever has, wants to use it.
It can go too far."
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