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Record a Police Officer in Illinois, Get 15 Years in Prison

cell phone recordingIf you were to record an encounter with the police, you might call it covering your ass. In Illinois, it's called a felony. The Midwestern state is one of three, along with Massachusetts and Oregon, to have passed eavesdropping laws that make it a crime to record a conversation without the consent of all parties involved. In Chicago, the law is drawing significant attention because, there, recording interactions with law enforcement officials constitutes a class one felony that can carry a sentence of up to 15 years in jail, even if the conversation happens in public. The New York Times has reported on two cases that are due to go before a judge this spring, and could result in serious jail time. The two defendants are unconnected, but for both being charged under a law that has drawn fire from the ACLU and other civil liberties proponents.

On January 10th, a Chicago court, for the second time, dismissed a case challenging the eavesdropping law, but the ACLU plans to appeal the decision. Mark Donahue, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, told the Times the organization "absolutely supports" the eavesdropping act, and is pleased that the challenge failed. Donahue explained that allowing citizens to record officers performing their duty "can affect how an officer does his job on the street."

One of the cases profiled in the times is that of Tiawanda Moore, a 20-year-old former stripper from Chicago's south side. Moore had filed sexual harassment charges against a member of the Chicago police department. As part of that investigation, she was called into police headquarters, and interviewed by two internal affairs officers. She recorded the conversation using her BlackBerry; as a result, the police department is now trying to put the young woman behind bars.

Had they been living in Illinois, the teens that recorded this encounter with a Baltimore police officer (which resulted in his suspension) could have been charged with a Class 1 felony. The same is true for the people who recorded an officer pushing a cyclist off his bike during a 2007 Critical Mass ride through New York City. Smartphones and other portable digital devices have made it much easier to document interactions with others, including police officers. With the ability to "watch the watchmen" now in the hands of every American, it's important that our laws catch up with technology.

Tags: aclu, cellphone, eavesdropping, law, liberty, police, privacy, top