First Amendment

Eavesdropping law is struck down by Illinois Supreme Court


An Illinois law that made it a crime to record a conversation without the consent of all the parties has been struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court.

In an opinion (PDF) released today, the court said the statute violates the First Amendment. The court said the statute is too broad, given the legislative purpose of protecting conversational privacy.

“The statute criminalizes the recording of conversations that cannot be deemed private: a loud argument on the street, a political debate on a college quad, yelling fans at an athletic event, or any conversation loud enough that the speakers should expect to be heard by others,” the court said. “None of these examples implicate privacy interests, yet the statute makes it a felony to audio record each one.”

The court also found fault with the statute because it failed to distinguish between open and surreptitious recording of conversations held in private.

The court also struck down a separate provision of the statute that criminalizes the publication of any recording made on a cellphone or other such device, regardless of consent.

The challenge was filed by Annabel Melongo, who was charged under the statute for recording telephone conversations with a court-reporter supervisor and posting the audio to her website. Melongo spent 20 months in jail because she could not make bail, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Melongo had spoken with the supervisor in an attempt to correct a transcript in a separate case against Melongo.

The Illinois ruling comes two years after the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the law was likely unconstitutional as applied to a plan to record police officers performing their duties in public.

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