Illinois judge supports eavesdropping law allowing prosecutions for taping police

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Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm

Correction: This article has been amended to reflect that Posner indicated support for the eavesdropping law. He did not rule against it, given the circuit court consists of a three-judge panel. We regret the error.

This week, U.S. 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner came out in support of an Illinois eavesdropping law prohibiting the taping of policy activity, saying if the law was weakened, “snooping” bloggers and gang members would “rejoice” at the news.

The case is before the court given a challenge filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU of Illinois has vowed to seek a federal injunction that would stop future prosecutions under the law in Cook County.

The case comes from Chicago, where police officers tried to dissuade Tiawanda Moore from filing a sexual assault complaint against one of their ilk, she tried to turn the tables on them — Moore took out a Blackberry and recorded their resistance to allow her to press charges.

Before she knew it, Moore had been slapped with an eavesdropping charge that’s becoming increasingly common as local police crack down on anyone who attempts to monitor police activity. She faced a class 1 felony prosecution and up to 15 years in prison.

Moore was acquitted, but the recent spate of prosecutions under this eavesdropping law have made civil liberties advocates fear Moore’s eventual fate could be uncommon.

“In order to make the rights of free expression and petition effective, individuals and organizations must be able to freely gather and record information about the conduct of government and its agents– especially the police,” said Harvey Grossman, legal director of the ACLU of Illinois. “Organizations and individuals should not be threatened with prosecution and jail time simply for monitoring the activities of police in public, having conversations in a public place at normal volume of conversation.”

Illinois is one of only a small handful of states that has criminalized civilians who record the police, including Massachusetts and Maryland. The U.S. Court of Appeals recently ruled that prosecuting individuals for recording on-duty policy officers violates the First Amendment. A judge at Boston’s First Circuit Court of Appeals made a similar ruling.

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