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Illinois Eavesdropping Laws: Bill Would Expand Recording Rights For Police, But Not The Public

Posted: 04/ 4/2012 3:36 pm Updated: 04/ 4/2012 3:36 pm

Though legislation that would have allowed private citizens to record police officers while on the job in public spaces was killed by the Illinois state legislature last month, a new bill aimed at carving out new exceptions to the state's so-called eavesdropping law advanced last week.

The proposal, House Bill 4081, would allow undercover police officers to audio record suspected drug offenders without a judge's prior approval. The measure, sponsored by state Rep. Jehan Gordon (D-Peoria) was approved by a vote of 99-12 in the state House of Representatives last Friday.

Police groups are backing the proposal. Terry Lemming, Illinois Drug Enforcement Officers Association president, explained to the Chicago Tribune that, based on his experience of working as an undercover officer, "I didn't see the sense in spending all these hours drafting a court order when I could have already gone out and arrested a guy selling on the corner right there, and I think that's the feeling of many narcotics officers."

But those opposed to the state's controversial eavesdropping law as it currently is written say that granting this allowance to officers -- even as this specific bill only addresses drug investigations -- could present a slippery slope into police seeking a green light to record those suspected of other crimes, according to the Tribune.

Meanwhile, although the bill aimed at revamping the eavesdropping act was rejected by the state House, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois's legal challenge of the law remains very much alive. A ruling on the matter from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal is expected soon. Two county judges have already said the state's eavesdropping policy is unconstitutional.

The eavesdropping law -- which forbids audio recordings unless all involved parties, specifically police officers, agree to it -- has come under increased scrutiny in advance of the NATO summit next month. Opponents to the law fear that either journalists or protesters may unknowingly attempt to record a clash with police and risk arrest.

Most states allow anyone taking part in a conversation to audio record it, a policy known as one-party consent, but Illinois has a strange variation on a two-party consent law that only applies to audio recordings. Illinoisans can legally video record an event without sound.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy previously called the law a "foreign concept." He said earlier this year that officers can benefit from having events on tape if false misconduct charges are filed after an altercation.

Cook County States' Attorney Anita Alvarez, meanwhile, has continued to defend the law. Alvarez told ABC Chicago last month, "As the State's Attorney, I'm going to enforce the laws that are on the books. That's the law that's on the books. We tried these past three years to change the law in Springfield, but it's gone nowhere."

WATCH a previous report on the state's eavesdropping law being ruled unconstitutional by Cook County Criminal Courts Judge Stanley Sacks:

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Filed by Joseph Erbentraut  |