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Reporter's Recording Guide

Last updated May 2020



In Illinois, an eavesdropping device cannot be used to record or overhear a private conversation or intercept, retain or transcribe a telephone or electronic communication made with the reasonable expectation of privacy without the consent of all parties involved.

The state provides both criminal and civil penalties for violators.


In-person conversations

The state requires all parties to a conversation to give consent before one can record “all or any part of any” private oral conversation. 720 Ill. Compiled Stat. 5/14-2(a)(1). The eavesdropping provisions apply when at least one of the participants reasonably intended the conversation to be private. 720 Ill. Compiled Stat. 5/14-1(d).

Like many states, Illinois’ law has an exception for recordings by police officers acting in the scope of their law enforcement duties. 720 Ill. Compiled Stat. 5/14-3(g).The law also specifically exempts the recording of any meeting required to be open under the Illinois Open Meetings Act. 720 Ill. Compiled Stat. 5/14-3(e).


Telephone and electronic communications

The law makes it a felony to intercept, record or transcribe any private telephone or electronic communication unless all parties give their consent. 720 Ill. Compiled Stat. 5/14-1, -2. Because the provision of the statute dealing with electronic communications applies to “any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data, or intelligence of any nature,” consent likewise is required from all parties to disclose the contents of text or email messages sent between electronic devices. 720 Ill. Compiled Stat. 5/14-1(e).


Hidden cameras

A person cannot videotape, photograph, film or transmit live video of “another person without that person’s consent in a restroom, tanning bed, tanning salon, locker room, changing room, or hotel bedroom,” or in their residence without their consent. 720 Ill. Compiled Stat. 5/26-4. The statute, however, exempts video recording in a locker room by a reporter who has received permission from “an appropriate authority” to conduct interviews there. 720 Ill. Compiled Stat. 5/26-4(b)(3).

The law also prohibits the concealed photography and video recordings of an individual’s body either under or through that person’s clothing without that person’s knowledge or consent. 720 Ill. Compiled Stat. 5/26-4(a-10).


Criminal penalties

Violations of the eavesdropping and video recording laws are punishable as felonies with one to three years in prison and up to a $25,000 fine, with greater penalties for subsequent offenses. 720 Ill. Compiled Stat. 5/14-4; 730 Ill. Compiled Stat. § 5-4.5-45, -50.

Under the eavesdropping statute, penalties are also greater with a possible prison term of two to five years and a fine up to $25,000 if one of the illegally recorded individuals is a law enforcement officer, attorney general, state’s attorney, assistant state’s attorney or judge “while in the performance of his or her official duties.” 720 Ill. Compiled Stat. 5/14-4(b); 730 Ill. Compiled Stat. § 5-4.5-40. The law — and thus any penalties — do not apply, however, to recordings of any conversations in which these officials do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, 720 Ill. Compiled Stat. 5/14-1, -2, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which includes Illinois, has found a First Amendment right to openly record police officers performing their duties in public. ACLU of Illinois v. Alvarez, 679 F.3d 583 (7th Cir. 2012).


Civil suits

Participants to any communication intercepted or recorded in violation of the state’s eavesdropping statute have civil remedies that include injunctive relief prohibiting any further eavesdropping, as well as actual and punitive damages against the eavesdropper. 720 Ill. Compiled Stat. 5/14-6.


Disclosing recordings

The eavesdropping law makes it illegal to use or disclose information one knows or should have known was obtained illegally. 720 Ill. Compiled Stat. 5/14-2(a)(5). Further, disclosing video images known to be made in violation of the state’s voyeurism law is a felony. 720 Ill. Compiled Stat. 5/26-4(a-25).

If a journalist received an illegally recorded conversation and was not involved in the illegal conduct, the First Amendment likely protects the publication of such material, to the extent it is a matter of public concern and truthful. See Bartnicki v. Vopper, 532 U.S. 514 (2001). For more information, see this guide’s introductory chapter here.


Right to record government officials in public

A growing consensus of courts have recognized a constitutional right to record government officials engaged in their duties in a public place. This First Amendment right to record generally encompasses both video and audio recording. For more information on the right to record broadly, see this guide’s introductory chapter here.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which includes Illinois, has held that there is a First Amendment right to record government officials performing their duties in public. Am. C. L. Union of Ill. v. Alvarez, 679 F.3d 583, 600 (7th Cir. 2012).