* Matt Dietrich…
A new version of the 50-year-old Illinois eavesdropping law arrived yesterday on Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk. If signed, it will let Illinois citizens record the actions of law enforcement officers on duty.
For the sake of the many social media conspiracy theorists who have spent the last several days madly posting otherwise, I will repeat: If Gov. Quinn signs this bill into law, you will be able legally to videotape police officers on duty and working in public.
I’m not sure how this caught fire and spread so quickly on Facebook and Twitter, because the whole point of the eavesdropping law revision was to remove language that made it a felony for any citizen to record a law enforcement officer on duty. It was that portion of the eavesdropping law that made it both unconstitutional and absurdly antiquated.
* The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kwame Raoul, wrote this in the Sun-Times…
Under this proposed law, the public maintains the right to record police because police have no reasonable expectation of privacy while doing their job in public.
The problem with these explanations is the phrase “in public.” I asked the House sponsor of this bill after it passed whether citizens could record police officers while in their own home. That’s not exactly “public.” The sponsor said that situation could be a problem.
* So, I agree with the Illinois Policy Institute on this particular issue…
Under the new bill, a citizen could rarely be sure whether recording any given conversation without permission is legal. The bill would make it a felony to surreptitiously record any “private conversation,” which it defines as any “oral communication between 2 or more persons,” where at least one person involved had a “reasonable expectation” of privacy.
When does the person you’re talking to have a reasonable expectation of privacy? The bill doesn’t say. And that’s not something an ordinary person can be expected to figure out.
A law must be clear enough for citizens to know in advance whether a particular action is a crime. This bill doesn’t meet that standard, which should be reason enough for a court to strike it down if it becomes law.
* Also, Mark Wilson at FindLaw…
Illinois’ new law probably isn’t as bad as the critics claim, but its emphasis on “reasonable expectations of privacy” does mean that there will likely be disputes about enforcement, with police and citizens disagreeing over whether a conversation is private or public.
*** UPDATE *** From Ed Yohnka at the ACLU…
The eavesdropping bill on the Illinois Governor’s desk prohibits the recording of *private* conversations absent all-party consent or a warrant. It defines *private* to mean when a person intends the conversation to be private under circumstances that reasonably justify that expectation. Thus, there will be a statutory limit on recording private conversations, and no limit at all on recording non-private conversations.
When is a conversation private? That term in the Illinois statute is the same or nearly the same as similar terms in the federal eavesdropping statute and scores of state eavesdropping statutes that have been on the books for many decades. A host of judicial decisions, interpreting these statues and also the Fourth Amendment, have addressed whether people have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a variety of conversations involving a variety of circumstances. If the Illinois Governor signs the bill on his desk, the new statute’s line (was the conversation private?) will be interpreted in light of this well-developed body of judicial precedent.
When do police have a reasonable expectation of privacy? Police clearly do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy against recording by civilians when they are on-duty in a public places and speaking at an ordinary volume. This was a holding of *ACLU v. Alvarez*, which protected the First Amendment right of civilians to audio record such non-private police conversations. But this is just one of the many circumstances in which police do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. On-duty police generally will have no reasonable expectation of privacy when they speak to civilians, including in many non-public places. For example, police cannot reasonably expect to be free from audio recording by a home owner when they enter a private home to enforce a warrant, or by a suspect being interrogated inside a stationhouse interrogation room. *ACLU v. Alvarez* is just one of the many judicial decisions finding that on-duty police lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy against recording by the civilians they speak with. On the other hand, two off-duty police officers might have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they speak together in a squad car with the windows up and no one else present, or whisper to each other in a deserted public park. Whether the location of the conversation is public or private is one relevant factor among many in deciding whether there was a reasonable expectation of privacy.
When do other government employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy? In light of the case law, on-duty government officials who knowingly speak with members of the public as part of the performance of their government jobs will generally not have a reasonable expectation of privacy against civilian recording of those conversations.