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The Illinois House and Senate Passed a Bill That Could Make Recording Cops Illegal

"...it’s important that people not be afraid to record police wherever they perform their duties..."

Photo credit: Shutterstock

The Illinois House and Senate have overwhelmingly passed an amendment that would make it unclear as to when it is legal to record an encounter with a police officer and when it is illegal.

Earlier this year, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down a similar law which made recording conversations with police or anyone else without their permission illegal. The court ruled that the state does not have the constitutional authority to criminalize recording in situations where individuals have no reasonable expectation of privacy.

Photo credit: Shutterstock Photo credit: Shutterstock

But the legislature dodged that legal barricade, sending an amendment to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's desk December 4. The legislation would make it a felony to record a "private conversation," which it defines as “oral communication between two or more persons" in which at least one person has a "reasonable expectation" of privacy.

But since it does not clearly state what a "reasonable expectation" is so that one can know for certain whether or not he or she is breaking the law, opponents worry it will cause people to stop recording police encounters altogether.

The Illinois Policy Institute, an independent research and education organization that focuses on personal freedom and prosperity, opposes it. IPI points out the stiff consequences for breaking the prospective law on its website. Recording conversations with police (which also includes attorneys general, assistant attorneys general, state attorneys, assistant state attorneys and judges) could result in a minimum of two years in prison with a maximum of four years (class 3 felony). Recording a private citizen would carry with it a minimum of one year in prison and a maximum of three years (class 4 felony).

Photo credit: Shutterstock Photo credit: Shutterstock

"There’s only one apparent reason for imposing a higher penalty on people who record police in particular: to make people especially afraid to record police," IPI states on its website. "That is not a legitimate purpose. And recent history suggests it’s important that people not be afraid to record police wherever they perform their duties so that officers will be more likely to respect citizens’ rights, and officers who do respect citizens’ rights will be able to prove it."

IPI said the amendment might also cause the state to disregard what many see as the need for a law requiring all police to body cameras. The growing base of proponents of this measure argues that body cameras would not only hold officers more accountable but protect them as well.

The debate about community relations with law enforcement officers became the center of a national discussion following the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. The debate swelled when the local St. Louis-area grand jury decided not to indict the officer. More tension surfaced when a grand jury in New York did not indict the police officer who killed Eric Garner by placing him in a chokehold.

Marchers move south on S. Florissant Road in downtown Ferguson, Mo., on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 as they demonstrate at police headquarters against Saturday's police shooting of Michael Brown. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Robert Cohen) Marchers move south on S. Florissant Road in downtown Ferguson, Mo., Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 as they demonstrate at police headquarters against Saturday's police shooting of Michael Brown. (AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Robert Cohen)

While the IPI clearly opposes Illinois' effort which it says would discourage people from recording conversations altogether what's also clear is that a supermajority of state legislators support the amendment. It passed by a vote of 106-7 in the House and by a vote of 46-4-1 in the Senate.

The fate of the controversial legislation now lies with the governor whose office did not immediately respond to TheBlaze when asked whether he supports or opposes the amendment.

(H/T: Illinois Policy Institute)

Follow Jon Street (@JonStreet) on Twitter

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