Eavesdropping Laws Mean That Turning On an Audio Recorder Could Send You to Prison

From the NY Times:

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.

And the money quote:

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.”

(via Reddit)


  1. Interestingly enough, this has been an issue in many states for years. Originally, these laws were passed to protect people from being wiretapped illegally. Now, officers hide behind them to keep from being exposed for behaving badly. I remember reading about it on Lifehacker a few months ago; you’re allowed to record video or still images of people in public places, even without signed consent, but you cannot record audio because of theses laws, even if you later remove the audio track from the video. In my opinion, the officers should behave no differently when recorded than when not recorded. Their actions should reflect intimate knowledge of the law whether they’re being watched or not.

  2. These are some of the worst laws on the books. Why can’t we monitor our own employees (the police)? These laws only protect corrupt cops, they do not protect citizens. I also completely object to similar laws designed to protect corrupt TSA agents. When the police can’t be held accountable, we are living in a police state. Welcome to it.

  3. Damn right it could affect an officer’s performance… and it SHOULD. The good cops have nothing to fear; it’s the bullies and power-mad, with their overuse of Tasers and the like, who need to fear, who SHOULD fear.

  4. If you or someone else is in danger, you can call 911, which records all calls. Granted, emergency services may be in cahoots with corrupt police, but sometimes the 911 center is regional, and not local. Not sure what would happen, if 911 dispatched more police to the scene to ‘assist you,’ but it may be a work around to explore.

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