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Recording Cops Is No Longer Illegal in Illinois

CHICAGO (CN) - Illinois has finally abandoned a controversial eavesdropping law that made it a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, to record law-enforcement officers while they were on duty.

The law, originally passed in 1961, criminalizes the nonconsensual recording of most oral communication without the consent of all parties. It permits the taking of photos, notes and silent video of a conversation. Subsequent amendments carved out immunity for law-enforcement officers and for audio recordings related to news reporting, but enhanced the punishments for private citizens who record of police officers.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in August 2010, citing concerns that its members would face prosecution while carrying out the organization's "police accountability program." This program involves recording officers who are performing their duties in public places, with special attention given to recording political protests and demonstrations.

Illinois State's Attorney Anita Alvarez bristled against the pre-enforcement action that sought to enjoin application of the law against citizens who record on-duty police officers.

U.S. District Judge Suzanne Conlon initially called the ACLU's claim "an unprecedented expansion of the First Amendment," which she noted "does not protect the right to audio record."

But a divided panel of the 7th Circuit reversed in May 2012, issuing a temporary injunction that prevents enforcement against citizens who record police officers.

Alvarez petitioned the Supreme Court to intercede, but the justices denied certiorari in late November.

On remand, U.S. District Judge Sharon Coleman permanently enjoined the embattled portions of the law.

Noting the 7th Circuit's finding "that the application of the Illinois Eavesdropping Act to the ACLU program triggers at least intermediate scrutiny under the First Amendment," Coleman deemed the law facially invalid.

Because the conversations in question are public, the state's privacy justification fails.

"This court finds that there are no public interest justifications for the act as it applies to the ACLU program," Coleman wrote. "Accordingly, this court must also find that the eavesdropping statute as applied to the ACLU program is not narrowly tailored to any public interest justification."

Alvarez has announced that she will not appeal the ruling.

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