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Thursday, June 20, 2024 | Back issues
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New Eavesdropping Law in Illinois Stirs Opponents

CHICAGO (CN) - A new version of an eavesdropping law in Illinois deemed unconstitutional is "nearly as bad as the old one," critics say.

The remark came from Illinois Policy Institute, nearly nine months since the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state's eavesdropping law.

Annabel Melongo, a woman who spent 18 months in jail facing eavesdropping charges, had been the catalyst for that decision, leading to a revised bill that the Legislature brought to outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn earlier this month.

Opponents who say that the new bill echoes concerns raised in the original lawsuits note, for example, that the secret recording of any "private conversation" is still prohibited.

With the recent decision by a grand jury in New York not to indict the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death, observers will closely monitor its implications for recording police while they are on duty.

Melongo's attorneys had touched on this issue at oral arguments before the Illinois Supreme Court. "We all have this instinct that a phone call is private, but public officials acting in their official capacity don't have the same right to privacy," attorney Gabriel Plotkin said.

Rather than mention this concern, however, the new bill defines "private conversation" as "oral communication between 2 or more persons," where at least one has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Such language may fly in the face of the Illinois Supreme Court's disapproval of the old law's breadth and failure to strictly define the terms "public" and "private."

The Illinois Policy Institute says that the law "might provide an excuse to scuttle body cameras for police."

"Police may argue that using body cameras to record encounters with citizens outside of public places would violate the law, as citizens have not consented to being recorded," a statement from the group released Friday states.

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