Illinois Updates Eavesdropping Law, Ambiguities Remain

Illinois has recently enacted a revised version of the Eavesdropping Act. (720 ILCS 5/14, et. seq.) Prior to 2015, Illinois was a “two-party consent” state. The Act prohibited recording police and other public officials without their consent. There were several prosecutions under the old version of the law. The new law makes it legal to make such recordings in public without consent.

Under the old law, the statute had the effect of barring the recording of loud arguments on the street, political debates in the park, or even public interactions between citizens and police officers. While the new law attempts to create a balance between privacy and the need to preserve the details of conversations with authorities, it is being criticized for creating a new set of problems.

Chief among the concerns from both criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors are the definitions of “surreptitious” and “reasonable expectation” of privacy.

For example. although the statute protects one right o secretly record one’s conversations, the reality is that with today’s ubiquity of cell phones, even if someone has a cell phone out on the table or is checking a cell phone during the conversation, it may be unclear whether that person is also using the cell phone to record a conversation.

Furthermore, the concept of a “reasonable expectation of privacy” is problematic. Critics say that ultimately this opens the door for a debate about whether one’s expectation of privacy was a reasonable or not.

Lastly, some have criticized the Act for creating a fast track for police to conduct surveillance on citizens private communications without a warrant. The law allows police to get a approval from a local states attorney under a broad set of circumstances as opposed to having to go in front of a judge and show probable cause.

Given these ambiguities in the law, many believe that it will take time and lawsuits in order to clarify some of the boundaries of these issues.

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