Raoul: New Law Protects Privacy, Freedom to Record Police

SPRINGFIELD, IL — Illinois State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago 13th) hailed the signing of eavesdropping reforms he and State Representative Elaine Nekritz (D-Buffalo Grove) sponsored as a victory for privacy, free speech and accountability.

“After the court struck down our criminal eavesdropping law, putting Illinoisans’ privacy at risk, Rep. Nekritz and I made changes that affirm the right to record police and other officials while safeguarding private conversations,” Raoul said. “Today these efforts have borne fruit, and I’m confident we now have a law that’s constitutional and commonsense and doesn’t interfere with the basic American freedom to hold law enforcement accountable.”

For 51 years, eavesdropping was a crime in Illinois – with no exception for recording police officers performing their official duties in public.  In fact, the legislature increased the penalty for eavesdropping on a police officer or public official – as opposed to a private citizen – in 2000. In a 2012 case, ACLU v. Alvarez, a federal appeals court ordered the Cook County State’s Attorney to stop prosecuting people for recording police in public, holding that officers have no expectation of privacy when interacting with the public in the course of their official duties.

In March, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the entire Illinois Eavesdropping Act. No state law prevented people from spying on each other and circulating recordings of private conversations. Raoul and Nekritz introduced legislation to close the loophole, working closely with the ACLU to make sure the proposal did nothing to curb the right to record police. In a statement, ACLU public policy director Ed Yohnka clarified that the new law doesn’t ban recording police in public and follows the model used in federal law and in most other states when it establishes that listening to or recording a conversation is only a crime when a participant has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

“If Michael Brown and Eric Garner had died in Illinois, our prior laws would have prohibited recording those encounters, but the law signed today would protect the right to document the events surrounding their deaths,” Raoul said. “Whenever citizens expose police misconduct or excessive force, our society gets a little closer to living up to its ideals. I encourage Illinois residents to exercise their right to record.”

During the upcoming legislative session, Raoul and Nekritz will work on passing a statewide protocol for the use of officer-worn cameras so departments can take advantage of federal matching funds to record more encounters between law enforcement and the public.