Reporters Committee, news groups challenge over-broad Ill. recording law

Press Release | April 25, 2011

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and six news industry associations have filed a friend-of-the-court brief challenging the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, arguing that it is so broad that it inhibits the basic right to gather information.

The brief — which was filed April 22 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in the case of The American Civil Liberties Union v. Anita Alvarez — asserts that the “disposition of this case is critically important in setting a precedent that will either protect or endanger newsgatherers’ constitutional rights.”

At the core of the brief is the argument against provisions in the Eavesdropping Act that require the consent of all parties recorded, regardless of whether the recording was done incidentally, in a public place and where the people involved have no reasonable expectation of privacy — a clear burden on the First Amendment right to record public events. Further, the Act “vests in law enforcement near-limitless discretion to decide which recordings should be concealed from public view and which may be conveyed to the public,” which places a dangerous chill on reporting of public officials’ activities.

"Illinois's eavesdropping statute is shockingly broad," said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy Dalglish. "There have been several recent cases across the country of citizens being arrested while filming or photographing public events in public places. But this is the most outrageous statute we've found. These unconstitutional arrests tend to have one thing in common: they occur after someone in power, often a law enforcement official, decides he or she does not like the speech or conduct captured on the recording. The notion that you can be arrested for documenting that behavior should send chills down the spines of anyone who cares about the constitution."

Joining the Reporters Committee in the brief are the American Society of News Editors, Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Citizen Media Law Project, National Press Photographers Association, Radio Television Digital News Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. The brief and legal analysis can be found on the Reporters Committee website.