Supreme Court Upholds Right to Film Police, Even in Illinois
November 26, 2012
The state of Illinois has some of the harshest “eavesdropping” laws on the books, and those statutes have been frequently abused to prosecute individuals for filming police actions in public in numerous cases.
Now, a fresh Supreme Court decision has declared this to be a violation of the First Amendment, upholding a lower court decision that resulted from an ACLU lawsuit against Cook County officials, who sought an appeal to allow prosecution.
Violations of the eavesdropping statute, designed to prevent covert recordings without consent, but which have been applied to public photography, carry a harsh maximum sentence of 15 years in Illinois, while most states recognize the lack of a perception of privacy in public places.
A federal appeals court in Chicago concurred with the ACLU’s argument that, “Illinois eavesdropping statute restricts far more speech than necessary to protect legitimate privacy interests.” That decision came last May ahead of the NATO summit in Chicago, and prompted a policy not to target protesters and citizens in the streets with iPhones and digital cameras during the events. The Supreme Court thus refused to review that decision, despite an appeal by the Cook County attorney general to do so, upholding the principle in alignment with rather clear cut freedom of speech issues.