Turning On A Recordering Device Could Send You to Prison

Posted by Harvest Dream on Monday, January 24. 2011 in Injustice, Judicial Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social Insights, USA


Source: The New York Times - January 22, 2011

Christopher Drew is a 60-year-old artist and teacher who wears a gray ponytail and lives on the North Side. Tiawanda Moore, 20, a former stripper, lives on the South Side and dreams of going back to school and starting a new life.

About the only thing these strangers have in common is the prospect that by spring, they could each be sent to prison for up to 15 years.

“That’s one step below attempted murder,” Mr. Drew said of their potential sentences.

The crime they are accused of is eavesdropping.

The authorities say that Mr. Drew and Ms. Moore audio-recorded their separate nonviolent encounters with Chicago police officers without the officers’ permission, a Class 1 felony in Illinois, which, along with Massachusetts and Oregon, has one of the country’s toughest, if rarely prosecuted, eavesdropping laws.

“Before they arrested me for it,” Ms. Moore said, “I didn’t even know there was a law about eavesdropping. I wasn’t trying to sue anybody. I just wanted somebody to know what had happened to me.”

Ms. Moore, whose trial is scheduled for Feb. 7 in Cook County Criminal Court, is accused of using her Blackberry to record two Internal Affairs investigators who spoke to her inside Police Headquarters while she filed a sexual harassment complaint last August against another police officer. Mr. Drew was charged with using a digital recorder to capture his Dec. 2, 2009, arrest for selling art without a permit on North State Street in the Loop. Mr. Drew said his trial date was April 4.

Both cases illustrate the increasingly busy and confusing intersection of technology and the law, public space and private.

“Our society is going through a technological transformation,” said Adam Schwartz, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which last August challenged the Illinois Eavesdropping Act in federal court. “We are at a time where tens of millions of Americans carry around a telephone or other device in their pocket that has an audio-video capacity. Ten years ago, Americans weren’t walking around with all these devices.”

He said that when “something fishy seems to be going on, the perfectly natural and healthy and good thing is for them to pull that device out and make a recording.”

The Illinois Eavesdropping Act has been on the books for years. It makes it a criminal offense to audio-record either private or public conversations without the consent of all parties, Mr. Schwartz said. Audio-recording a civilian without consent is a Class 4 felony, punishable by up to three years in prison for a first-time offense. A second offense is a Class 3 felony with a possible prison term of five years.

Although law-enforcement officials can legally record civilians in private or public, audio-recording a law-enforcement officer, state’s attorney, assistant state’s attorney, attorney general, assistant attorney general or judge in the performance of his or her duties is a Class 1 felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The A.C.L.U. filed its lawsuit after several people throughout Illinois were charged in recent years with eavesdropping for making audio recordings of public conversations with the police. The A.C.L.U. argued that the act violates the First Amendment and hinders citizens from monitoring the public behavior of police officers and other officials.

On Jan. 10, a federal judge in Chicago dismissed the suit for the second time. Mr. Schwartz said the A.C.L.U. would appeal. Andrew Conklin, a spokesman for Anita Alvarez, the Cook County state’s attorney, said, “We did feel the A.C.L.U.’s claims were baseless and we’re glad the court agreed with us.” Beyond that statement, Mr. Conklin said, “we have no comment because we have these two cases pending.”

Mark Donahue, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said his organization “absolutely supports” the eavesdropping act as is and was relieved that the challenge had failed. Mr. Donahue added that allowing the audio recording of police officers while performing their duty “can affect how an officer does his job on the street.”


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