Chicago City Hall officials violated Illinois' strict eavesdropping law when they ‘inadvertently’ recorded conversations with Chicago Tribune reporters without their consent.
The Tribune sent the city a letter Friday demanding that officials stop secretly recording conversations with reporters. The newspaper also requested copies of the recorded conversations.
“This failure was due to inadvertence – not some practice or plan to record interviews without consent,” City Attorney Stephen Patton stated in a letter responding to the Tribune.
According to Patton, steps have been taken to ensure that illegal recording does not happen again. It was unclear whether there were any tapes of the recordings to turn over to the newspaper, he said. City Hall also accused a Tribune reporter of illegally recording a taped interview with an official last week. The reporter denied recording the interview without consent.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in an unrelated press conference Monday that the controversy was “much ado about nothing.”
One of the recordings was revealed last week when it was used by the city as evidence in a wrongful death lawsuit. The recording involved a conference call between two Tribune reporters and Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. In the Oct. 2011 recording, neither reporter acknowledged or gave consent to having the conversation taped.
City officials also admitted to illegally recording two conversations with a Tribune reporter about Chicago’s speed camera program in September.
Illinois, along with 12 other states, requires all-party consent when recording any conversation. The controversial law has been under direct constitutional challenge in at least two cases.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago (7th Cir.) allowed one group to record police conduct without prosecution in ACLU of Illinois v. Alvarez earlier this year. The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois argued that their employees should be able to record public interactions with Chicago police as a part of their efforts to document police conduct. The court agreed that the law was "likely" unconstitutional and should not be enforced against ACLU employees.In another case, a trial judge ruled that the state’s eavesdropping law is unconstitutional. The case involved a man who faced up to 75 years in prison for secretly recording his encounters with police officers and a judge.