Updated: January 1, 2013 6:29AM
It’s looking bad for one of the more boneheaded laws in Illinois, one that no other state has on its books. And we couldn’t be happier.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling this summer that struck down a section of the state’s eavesdropping law. That section makes it a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, for anyone who makes an audio recording of a police officer who’s on duty.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago found that provision to be unconstitutional because it violates the right to free speech. The court issued a temporary injunction to prevent the Cook County state’s attorney’s office from prosecuting anyone under the law.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which in 2010 sued the office over the law, wants a federal judge to make the injunction permanent to prevent police and prosecutors throughout Illinois from enforcing the law, which two state judges also have ruled unconstitutional.
That’s fine, but it would be better if the Legislature removed the police provision from the eavesdropping law. A bill last year that would do so failed to pass. Its sponsor, Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), said there’s no “expectation of privacy for public officials on public property doing public duties.” We agree.
It’s hard to imagine a law more deserving of the trash can. Why should police have this special protection while on the job? Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, in responding to the ACLU suit, said allowing people to audiotape cops could interfere with investigations. That’s a stretch. No other state has such a ban. It prevents citizens from helping guard against police misconduct, something that’s easier than ever with smartphones everywhere.
And more police departments are installing video cameras in squad cars to record patrol officers on the job. Police can videotape themselves but citizens can’t audiotape them? Doesn’t make sense. But under Illinois’ law, it is legal to videotape someone without their consent as long as no sound recording is made.
This is a bad law that needs to go away. We hope the Supreme Court decision spurs a renewed effort by lawmakers to remove it.