Illinois Passes Bill to Record Cops in Public
In Chicago, Illinois, as well as in the rest of the state, there has been much controversy surrounding the recording of police officers and other public officials while on duty and in public. There have even been some arrests made, with people going to jail for recording transactions with on duty police officers. Now, state legislation has been approved today that will allow people to record the activities of on duty police officers without having to worry about felony charges. The legislation was approved by an Illinois House committee, despite concerns from a few lawyers who feel that the decision would raise more complications than ease them.
The bill was approved by an overwhelming vote of 9-2 by the Human Services Committee. Winning in the Human Services committee means that the bill now goes to the House for further action.
Representative Elaine Nekritz said that this legislation would be instrumental in protecting citizens who take out their cell phones and cameras to begin recording events that they are witnessing. The Northbrook Democrat said keeping the law updated is an “urgent” matter, especially because there would be many international visitors and journalists arriving in Chicago in May for the G-8 and NATO summits. It is believed that these meetings will trigger protests, which will surely gain the attention of bystanders who want to record the event.
According to the current Illinois law, making an audio recording without someone’s permission is illegal. Under this law, using a smart phone to record a conversation with police or record them as they are making an arrest is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Nekritz’s bill, however, would allow people to make records of public servants and officials, such as police officers and government staff, while they are on duty. Several lawmakers showed their approval for the bill, but said that they would like to see some changes made before fully supporting it on the House floor.
Representative Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, said that she is troubled by the idea of drawing a line between public and private places. Since the term “public” would be specified, recording a police conversation in someone’s home would be illegal.
“I think we’re pretty much all in agreement that a felony conviction is a high price to pay,” said Tracy, who also wants assurance that police officers wouldn’t be impaired by citizens recording.
Dan Nelson, the director of government affairs for the Fraternal Order of Police, testified against the legislation. He argued the bill would allow citizens who are not a party in a conversation to secretly record officials in public places and interfere with police activities.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez also opposed bill. Her office said the measure should wait until the courts rule on challenges to the current law and a rewrite should address the entire eavesdropping statute, not just one small part.
Representative Lou Lang, D-Skokie, voiced concerns that the Illinois law interferes with people’s First Amendment rights to gather information.
“There is a long history in this country where people have done this very thing for the good and cause of this country,” Lang said.