This spring, when hundreds of international dignitaries arrive in Chicago for the G-8 summit and NATO, thousands of protesters and journalists will follow. Chicago is in for a crowded and eventful May, particularly given the number of potential arrests that will be made—protests at these events are notoriously volatile. But, in addition to protesters, cops could be arresting any journalists who record them under the state’s current “draconian” wiretapping law.
Illinois has arguably the most strict wiretap law. If you record the police without their permission, you can be arrested and face 15 years in prison. It doesn’t matter where the taping took place or if there were others around. You record them and you are vulnerable to arrest.
In other states, you can film cops as long as they are in public and there is no “expectation of privacy”. In Massachusetts, you cannot record unless the recording device is held in plain sight. In Illinois, however, you cannot record period.
One Chicago woman is facing charges for this after secretly recording Internal Affairs officers who visited her home after she filed a sexual harassment complaint against an officer. The recording caught the officers suggesting she drop her complaint. As a result, she is facing 15 years in prison.
Laws and practices vary across the country for recording police. Last August, however, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that citizens can record the police when going about their public duties. Currently, a bill is pending in the Illinois General Assembly that would make such recordings allowable if they were done in a public place and those being filmed were speaking at a “volume audible to the unassisted human ear.”
It isn’t clear whether this law could be passed before this spring’s big meetings come about. If not, the state risks looking like a far cry from the “Land of the Free” as they arrest international journalists for recording the protest arrests that are bound to happen.
As it’s been happening with some Occupy protests, Slate.com points out the journalists could be arrested under suspicion of violating the wiretap law, brought to jail and then released—just giving the cops enough time to ruin any potential journalistic coverage of any specific arrest or volatile situation.
You, as a citizen, don’t have the same protection as the press when it comes to recording police, especially in Illinois. While the ACLU has twice challenged the law, their cases have twice been thrown out of court. If you are accused of recording cops in Illinois, the stakes are high and you need someone who knows the laws on your side.
Contact our offices today if you are accused of violating the wiretap law or if you are charged with any criminal offense and have questions.