Earlier last week, the US Supreme Court rejected an appeal regarding a controversial Illinois state bill that would have prohibited individuals from recording the speech of on-duty police officers. In an important triumph for First Amendment rights, the high court sustained the ruling of the federal appeals court, and affirmed the unconstitutionality of the act.
As it stood, the Illinois law represented the most stringent anti-eavesdropping law in the nation, as any violation of the law constituted a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. A temporary injunction was placed upon the legislation earlier this year, and since that initial restriction, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit challenging the law. In this suit brought against the state attorney, the ACLU sought to maintain the permanence of the injunction.
In response to the Supreme Court decision to affirm the lower court ruling, Harvey Grossman, legal director of the Illinois chapter of the ACLU, said:
The ACLU of Illinois continues to believe that in order to make the rights of free expression and petition effective, individuals and organizations must be able to freely gather and record information about the conduct of government and their agents – especially the police. We are hopeful that we are moving closer to a day when no one in Illinois will risk prosecution when they audio record public officials performing their duties. Empowering individuals and organizations in this fashion will ensure additional transparency and oversight of public officials across the State.
While state attorney Anita Alvarez argued that the recording of on-duty police officers could potentially deter honest and candid speech, the federal appeals court indicated that the Illinois law “restricts far more speech than necessary to protect legitimate privacy interests.”
This can be viewed as a significant win for the rights of everyday citizens, as it provides an additional check upon possible police abuses. By allowing use of recording devices, the public is better equipped to combat potential misuses of police power, and to help hold authorities accountable.