Under the Illinois Eavesdropping Act as it existed prior to March 2014, citizens could be -- and were -- prosecuted for recording the police and other public officials without their consent. The new law, passed in December and codified at 720 ILCS 5/14 et seq., makes it legal to do so in public settings without consent. But other provisions of the law make it easier for police to obtain permission to record private citizens, and the sum total is drawing mixed reviews from different parties for different reasons.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois (ACLU), which successfully challenged the old statute (American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois v. Alvarez, 679 F.3d 583 (7th Cir. 2012)), believes the rewritten law represents "a step forward" in that respect, says Adam Schwartz, senior staff counsel at the ACLU. "It limits the scope of the statute to just private conversations," he says. "If conversations are not private, there is no limit to recording; but if a conversation is private, you need all-party consent…. On the whole, the bill is drawing the line in the right place."
But the new act also provides a fast track for police to conduct surveillance on citizens' private communications if they have reason to believe those citizens will imminently commit one of a number of qualifying offenses, such as drug deals or sexual assaults, in the succeeding 24 hours. See 720 ILCS 5/14-3. Instead of requiring a warrant with approval of a judge, now police need only get the thumbs-up from their local state's attorney in a broader set of instances than in the past. Find out more in the June Illinois Bar Journal.