Recording Audio of Police in Public Not a Felony in Illinois

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I enjoy following court cases involving the use of surveillance and witness video recorded by private citizens. Here’s a story followup (summarized from an article on Reuters.com) for a case I’ve been following. November 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court refused to uphold a law that restricted Illinois citizens from recording audio of on duty police officers in public areas. That Illinois law had made it a felony to record audio of police conversations unless all parties consented.

The law preventing citizens from making these audio recordings was initially challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois (ACLU). They were fighting for a “police accountability program.”

Anita Alvarez, the Cook County state attorney defending the law said, “we respect and accept the court’s decision in this matter and we are continuing to review all legal options as the case proceeds in U.S. district court.”

Alvarez’s argument in defense of police officers is that people will get in the way and distract police from doing their job. This seems to be the largest complaint from police and attorneys who advocate for banning police recordings.

Because privacy laws vary across the US, police are often confused about the legality of people recording them while they are making arrests. An argument could be made that it is the police officer’s confusion, rather than the actual recording, that distracts police from their job.

Another one of Alvarez’s concerns is that making it legal to record police, even though it may protect rights of certain citizens, may also lessen the investigative effectiveness for police by weakening police officers’ ability to speak with individuals while in the line of duty.

If you want to look it up, the case is Alvarez v. Connell et al, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-318.

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