This week, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in ACLU v. Alvarez challenging the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, which bans audio recording police officers in public places. The Illinois ban is one of the strictest in the country.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claims that the law creates a double-standard; police can record citizens during interactions without the citizens' consent, but citizens cannot record the police without risking a Class 1 felony and up to 15 years in prison.
Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Richard Posner claimed during arguments that changing the law would allow reporters and bloggers to run amuck and enable gang violence. Illinois ACLU Legal Director Harvey Grossman countered that the "law in Illinois is an aberration. It's virtually unheard of for law enforcement officers in other states in our country to be able to use eavesdropping laws as a weapon against citizens who seek to do nothing more than record their activities and oral expressions," reports Chicago Sun-Times.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals agrees with Grossman. Last month, the First Circuit noted that "a citizen's right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment."
Remember the post-Katrina news reports out of New Orleans when videos emerged showing New Orleans cops beating citizens? If Louisiana citizens did not have a right to record police, the offending officers might have walked free.
Most police officers do not engage in shocking or illegal behavior, but every career path is littered with a few bad seeds. In court, juries and judges give a police officer's word greater weight than an average citizen's. When courts limit the right to record police, they compromise what little protection citizens have from the few bad cops.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals should follow the First Circuit's lead and overturn the Illinois Eavesdropping Act.