Thursday, March 8, 2012

Journalistic Ramifications of the Illinois Eavesdropping Law

Thursday, March 08, 2012

The McCormick Foundation is a staunch supporter of the First Amendment, press freedoms and civil liberties. Always has been, always will be.

That’s why we are delighted that the troubling Illinois Eavesdropping Act has been declared unconstitutional and now awaits possible review by the state’s Supreme Court or repeal by the state legislature.

The Journalism Program played a role in calling attention to the statute, which outlaws the recording of either private or public conversation without the consent of all parties involved. I get that part.  It becomes overly strict by specifically banning audio recording of police officers, though it does allow for silent video recordings and photographs.  The kicker is that it’s a felony with a sentence of up to 15 years in jail.

In January, we sponsored a town hall meeting at Loyola University on the journalistic ramifications of the Eavesdropping Act. McCormick grantee Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of Press said the statute is the only law of its type in the United States because it criminalizes the nonconsensual recording of conversations to which the participants have no reasonable expectations of privacy.

“The law makes it a crime to audio-record all interactions with police officers, even those in which either the police or the citizen may be engaging in misconduct,” she said. “This threatens the core values of free speech and a free press enshrined in the First Amendment.”

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said the law makes no sense at a time when so many citizens have the capability of smart phones.  Moreover, the city’s top cop told the town hall that recording police doing their jobs can help in the defense of officers accused of misconduct.

Our keen interest in the subject was fueled late last year after Loyola journalism professor Ralph Braseth filed a complaint against police.  Braseth was detained after recording the arrest of a teen near Loyola’s downtown Chicago campus and the officer allegedly erased the recorded file.

The eavesdropping story illustrates the potential impact of civic engagement and solid journalism.
We are confident that our upcoming Why News Matters initiative will offer effective ways to educate and energize Chicagoans. Remember the April 2 deadline for responding to the Request for Ideas.

0 Responses to “Journalistic Ramifications of the Illinois Eavesdropping Law”

Post a Comment