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Our view: Rewrite law 
on recording police in public

Federal courts have said that Illinois’ prohibition on recording police officers in public is unconstitutional, and legislators should take the opportunity to rewrite the state’s eavesdropping law.

We wholeheartedly agree.

The general rule of thumb is, if you can be seen in public, you can be photographed in public.

However, in Illinois, if you can be heard in public, it’s a crime for someone to record your voice. Recording the voice of a police officer doing his or her job in public is considered a felony punishable by as many as 15 years in prison under the state’s eavesdropping law, passed in 1961.

The law against recording police is not enforceable at the moment. In May, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the law violated the Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech.

Some legislators have suggested that throwing out the penalty for recording police should make the law acceptable. We think the law should be rewritten to take into account, among other things, modern technology.

Much has changed since 1961. Today, most any random person on the street can have a video and audio recording device in their pocket.

Video and/or audio recording police officers performing their duties in public should be legal. But if that recording obstructs an officer from doing his or her duty, that’s another matter.

Police have a dangerous job, whether they are performing a traffic stop, responding to a domestic violence incident, or patrolling on foot or bicycle. They are routinely confronted with suspects who are intoxicated, violent, or otherwise pose a danger to themselves and others.

Concern for public safety demands that police be unimpeded by amateur cameramen who might not know what’s best for their own safety in a potentially dangerous situation.

What’s needed is a law that balances the rights of the public to record goings-on in the public sphere with the rights of police to be able to perform their duties safely.

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