The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois has declared victory in a court case involving Illinois’ eavesdropping statute. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit this week overturned a trial court decision and ruled that the ACLU of Illinois could legally record police officers who are performing their public duties. The court case was filed by the ACLU because of its “police accountability program” in Chicago, which has plans to send out workers to record police officers. From the court’s ruling:
The Illinois eavesdropping statute restricts far more speech than necessary to protect legitimate privacy interests; as applied to the facts alleged here, it likely violates the First Amendment’s freespeech and free-press guarantees.
Illinois’ eavesdropping statute makes it illegal to record audio of any conversation unless all parties to the conversation give consent. This type of consent for audio recording is common in the U.S., though some states only require one party to the conversation to consent.
Harvey Grossman, the legal director for the ACLU of Illinois, released the following statement:
The Court of Appeals today reversed the trial court and ordered that the court enter a preliminary injunction enjoining States Attorney Anita Alvarez from prosecuting the ACLU and its employees for openly audio recording police officers performing their public duty. 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. The advent and widespread accessibility of new technologies make the recording and dissemination of pictures and sound inexpensive, efficient and easy to accomplish.
Empowering individuals and organizations in this fashion will ensure additional transparency and oversight of police across the State.
Now that recording devices are ubiquitous throughout society, any person with a public-facing job, and especially those in the public sector, must consider that they are subject to public scrutiny. Though this is quite a change for those public employees who were used to conducting their jobs in secret, or at least not on the record, it simply is the new reality. Also, it is just another sign of how the explosive innovation in the technology sector is disrupting not only business models, but society as a whole.
What do you think? Should the police be free from public scrutiny to effectively perform their jobs, or should the public have the right to keep watch on those who are paid with tax dollars to serve and protect them? Take a look at the ACLU of Illinois’ video explanation of the case and leave a comment below letting us know what you think.