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ACLU asks federal court to lift ban on video-ing police

As an update to Rob’s query from a couple of weeks ago, here’s an excerpt from an ACLU press release, issued today:

Responding to a series of incidents in which individuals in four counties in Illinois have been charged with violating Illinois’ eavesdropping law for making audio recordings of public conversations with police, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois today asked a federal court to rule that the First Amendment bans such prosecutions. The ACLU lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Chicago, argues that individuals (and organizations such as the ACLU) may make audio (and video) recordings of police who are performing their public duties in a public place and speaking in a voice loud enough to be heard by the unassisted human ear.

The case is of particular import because the law is being used to arrest and prosecute those who want to monitor police activity in order to deter or detect any police misconduct. In Champaign a few years ago, for example, a group of community activists attempting to document police practices in predominantly African American neighborhoods were charged with violating the Illinois eavesdropping law when they filmed and recorded police interactions with citizens in the public way. (The charges were dropped only after the installation of a new states attorney.) In Chicago, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez currently is prosecuting an individual for violating the eavesdropping statute by recording police officers.

You can download the pdf of the full complaint here.

UPDATE (8/20 @ 8:20 a.m.): The Chicago Tribune posted an informative article about this challenge last night, including a mention of the 2004 arrest of Martel Miller and Patrick Thompson for recording Champaign police officers. Thanks to reader ellipse for passing along the link.

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