Illinois New Eavesdropping Law Is A Terrible Idea

12/10/2014 06:20 pm ET Updated Feb 10, 2015

In the wake of the deaths of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice and others, many questions have been raised about police shootings, tactics and the militarization of local police departments. A major contributing factor to this new era of transparency has been a citizen's right to film the police, upheld by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2012.

The Illinois Legislature wants to change that.

Even though the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state's overbroad eavesdropping law, which had led to multiple citizens being arrested and charged with felonies for filming police officers without their consent, earlier this year, on Dec. 4 the Illinois Legislature introduced a new bill that would have nearly the same effect.

Senate Bill 1342 would criminalize any "oral communication between 2 or more persons" that was surreptitiously recorded where one party, including police, had a "reasonable expectation of privacy." The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that police in performance of their duties in "public," do not have an expectation of privacy, but did not define "public."

Though the courts struck down the old law to protect First-Amendment activities, this loophole makes the new law just as vague and just as dangerous. It leaves Illinois citizens to guess whether or not filming the police in their case is legal, and the Illinois legislature is fully prepared to take advantage of that vagueness. As Illinois Policy reports:

The bill would also discourage people from recording conversations with police by making unlawfully recording a conversation with police -- or an attorney general, assistant attorney general, state's attorney, assistant state's attorney or judge -- a class 3 felony, which carries a sentence of two to four years in prison. Meanwhile, the bill makes illegal recording of a private citizen a class 4 felony, which carries a lower sentencing range of one to three years in prison.

With this new language, the legislature makes clear its intentions: to stop people in Illinois from filming the police and certain government officials. There is no other reason to charge someone with a lesser felony for recording a private citizen. In case that were not enough, the bill was amended from much less concerning language at the last minute, and introduced around the holidays, raising suspicions that legislators are trying to pass it through un-noticed.

Steve Beson, of Florida Copwatch, said:

Recent high profile police abuse cases have shown that having a video record of interactions between police and citizens can be beneficial to both parties. In fact, in many states, such as Florida, it is legal to record interactions with police, as long as you're not interfering with the police function. This new legislation in Illinois, if signed, would severely limit the ability of citizens to legally record interactions with the police.

SB 1342 passed the Illinois Senate 46-4-1, the Illinois House 106-7, and is currently sitting on Governor Pat Quinn's desk.