Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Supreme Court Leaves Controversial Eavesdropping Ruling In Place

In American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois v. Alvarez (7th Cir. 2012) 679 F.3d 583, the Court of Appeal decided Illinois’ eavesdropping statute is unconstitutional.  The law makes it a felony to audio record “all or any part of any conversation” unless all parties to the conversation give their consent.  Defendants can be sentenced to up to fifteen years if they record a peace officer. The statute does not prohibit taking silent videos of police officers performing their duties in public; turning on the microphone, however, is prohibited.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged this statute as applied to the organization’s Chicago-area “police accountability program,” which included a plan to record police officers performing their duties in public places. The local police union defended the law because it prevents people from recording officers to release snippets out of context.  The Court, however, found that the statute “restricts far more speech than necessary to protect legitimate privacy interests” and “it likely violates the First Amendment’s free-speech and free-press guarantees” as applied to the alleged facts.

The Court of Appeals argued the statute “interferes with the gathering and dissemination of information about government officials performing their duties in public.” The Court was quick to point out, however, that their decision would not immunize “behavior that obstructs or interferes with effective law enforcement or the protection of public safety.”  On Monday, November 26, 2012, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the State’s appeal and thus, the Seventh Circuit’s ruling was left in place.