Eavesdropping legislation stalls in Senate
By SHANNON MCFARLAND The Associated Press May 25, 2012 9:28PM
Updated: July 3, 2012 10:53AM
SPRINGFIELD — Legislation that would allow people to record the public activities of police officers has stalled, because the sponsoring senator opposes the House’s changes to the measure.
Sen. Michael Noland won’t call a vote for the so-called “eavesdropping” bill because he believes police should have wider powers to record citizens.
The Elgin Democrat finds himself with the sponsorship because the legislation he sent to the House — dealing with falsifying court records — was picked up by Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) and rewritten to allow citizens to record police officers.
Now, proponents of Nekritz’s measure say Noland should step aside and let a supportive colleague move it through the Senate. So far, Noland is refusing.
The eavesdropping bill would allow people to record conversations with police in public areas, and prevent altered recordings from being used against police. Under current law, it is a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, for recording a conversation without consent from every party involved.
With recording technology in the hands of anyone on the street, Illinois’ law is one of the strictest eavesdropping statues and has been criticized as outdated. It does permit video recording, as long as the sound is not recorded.
Nekritz’s first attempt to change the law failed in the House. Police groups and lawmakers and lawmakers were concerned that altered audio recordings would be used to bring false police misconduct cases.
So, when Noland’s bill on falsifying records arrived in the House, Nekritz added language to prevent using tampered audio recordings in court and to allow people record police conversations.
Noland stands by his decision, saying he supports recording police, but believes police should have more leeway to record citizens.
“When both citizens and police understand that the whole world is watching, everybody behaves better,” Noland said. He said broader recording power and more information would keep both officers and the public safer, and save money by reducing criminal litigation cases.
Advocates for allowing recordings are angered by Noland’s stance. Joshua Sharp, the director of government relations for the Illinois Press Association, said Noland is welcome to vote against Nekritz’s measure, but should remove his name as a sponsor.
“Instead of doing the right thing and getting off it, he’s hijacking it,” Sharp said.
Sharp called Noland a “hostile” sponsor who seems to want unlimited police surveillance of citizens.
The current, tough law has been challenged by two county courts and a federal court as unconstitutional. It allows for only a few exceptions, including citizens who believe a crime is being committed against them and law enforcement with a warrant.
Recent legislation awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature would make it even easier for police to record conversations in undercover drug operations, requiring verbal approval from the states’ attorney instead of a written warrant from a judge.
Noland said he voted against that legislation, too, and he believes the new authorization process will be challenged in the courts.
Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, had expected to be the Senate sponsor. She hopes to either pick up Nekritz’s legislation if Noland removes his name or find another bill.
“The fact that we are making felonies out of anyone who has a smartphone is a little problematic to me,” Hutchinson said.
Nekritz said supporters of the bill are trying to change Noland’s mind. If that doesn’t work, she wants to find another measure that can be quickly adapted.
Too much surveillance power would run afoul of the state constitution, Nekritz said, which protects against invasions of privacy.
Nekritz said the police already have some exemptions and the ability to get a warrant.
“I struggle to understand why we should tip the balance in favor of law enforcement,” she said.
Noland is also on the lookout for his own measure, which he said would include language similar to Nekritz’s measure and additional exemptions for law enforcement.