As NYPD Probes Footage of Police Brutality, Recording the Cops Still a Felony in Illinois
People around the country are rightly outraged at NYPD Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna after multiple recordings of him indiscriminately pepper-spraying unarmed Occupy Wall Street protesters surfaced. If not for those recordings, Bologna would likely have never been identified and held accountable for his ruthless behavior.
Meanwhile, in the state of Illinois residents are regularly arrested for recording on-duty police in public, regardless of the circumstances, thanks to a draconian eavesdropping law, which I wrote about extensively here.
Illinois is one of a handful of all-party consent states, where it is illegal to record a conversation unless everyone involved has given permission to do so. But the law is most restrictive in Illinois, where it is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison to record on-duty police officers.
Earlier this week, ABC News reported on the case of Louis Frobe, who spent a night in jail and faced 15 years in prison last August after using his flip camera to record a traffic stop. Frobe was pulled over for speeding and the officer was not pleased when he realized he was being recorded, even as his squad dash cam was routinely recording the traffic stop as well. ABC News details the confrontation:
Officer: "That recording? Frobe : "Yes, Yes, I've been... Officer: "Was it recording all of our conversation? Frobe: "Yes. Officer: "Guess what? You were eavesdropping on our conversation. I did not give you permission to do so. Step out of the vehicle."
Louis Frobe was then cuffed and arrested for felony eavesdropping.
"I was terrified. I was absolutely terrified. I was begging him, I said I didn't know about this law. Would you please take the camera - this is no big deal - and smash it. You know I didn't know about the law," Frobe told ABC7.
The charges were ultimately dropped, as usually is the case. But after experiencing the worst night of his life and spending a night in Lake County Jail, Frobe was too angry to let it go. So he got a lawyer and filed a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the law.
It is widely recognized across the country that recording in public, where there is no expectation of privacy is guaranteed by the First Amendment, which is why the ACLU of Illinois is currently challenging the law. Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit, who is on the panel hearing the case, was quoted by the Chicago Sun-Times as saying the following:
A senior appeals court judge said Tuesday that if Illinois’ eavesdropping law were expanded, gang bangers and “snooping” reporters would run rampant, secretly recording conversations unchecked.
“If you permit the audio recordings, they’ll be a lot more eavesdropping. … There’s going to be a lot of this snooping around by reporters and bloggers,” U.S. 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner said. “Yes, it’s a bad thing. There is such a thing as privacy.”
Given the brutality being dished out at peaceful protesters in Zuccotti Park, Judge Posner is clearly on the side of officers like Bologna and those who prefer to shield authority figures from any degree of accountability.
While the panel is set to issue a written ruling in the coming months, the Occupy Wall Street movement has spread to Illinois. Thus far, exchanges between the Occupy Chicago protesters and Chicago police have remained civil. But should they take a turn for the worse, let’s hope that protesters armed with smartphones can record footage of the chaos without having to spend a night in jail or face 15 years in prison.