Illinois Supreme Court Deals Final Blow To State’s Harsh Eavesdropping Law

CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois’ Supreme Court declared one of the nation’s toughest eavesdropping laws unconstitutional, saying Thursday that the law was so overly broad that it would technically make the recording of screaming fans at a football game a crime.

The ruling is the final defeat for the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, which had made it a felony for someone to record a conversation unless all parties involved agreed. The 1961 law violates free speech and due process protections, the court decided in unanimous decisions in two related cases focused on audio recordings.

State legislators will now have to draft new rules in a very different privacy environment than existed five decades ago.

“The burden is now on the legislature to craft a statute that actually serves the goal of protecting privacy — and that does so without infringing on the rights of citizens to keep public officials honest,” said Gabe Plotkin, a lawyer for Annabel Melongo, a defendant in one of the two cases.

Melongo spent nearly two years in jail after being charged under the statute for recording a Cook County court official over the phone who she believed wasn’t carrying out her duties properly.

The Illinois law had suffered earlier defeats, including in 2012 when the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a provision that barred anyone from video recording police officers doing their jobs in public. Thursday’s decisions — in People v. Melongo and People v. Clark — mean lawmakers in Springfield will have to ensure the statute complies with court findings.

“Instead of serving as a shield to protect individual privacy, the statute was written so broadly that it allowed the state to use it as a sword to prosecute citizens for monitoring and reporting on the conduct of public officials,” Plotkin said.

Read More