Illinois has one of the strictest laws in the country when it comes to people audio recording police officers in public. But then again, Illinois is also known for a long history of police corruption, and maybe the State thought it could prevent a few civil rights settlements by banning people from recording their interactions with police. Whatever the motivation behind the law, it doesn’t much matter after today because the Seventh Circuit, in a 66-page opinion by Judge Sykes, directs the lower court to enter a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the law. The court did so because it said the law “likely” violates the First Amendment:
We reverse and remand with instructions to allow the amended complaint and enter a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the eavesdropping statute as applied to audio recording of the kind alleged here. The Illinois eavesdropping statute restricts a medium of expression commonly used for the preservation and communication of information and ideas, thus triggering First Amendment scrutiny. Illinois has criminalized the nonconsensual recording of most any oral communication, including recordings of public officials doing the public’s business in public and regardless of whether the recording is open or surreptitious. Defending the broad sweep of this statute, the State’s Attorney relies on the government’s interest in protecting conversational privacy, but that interest is not implicated when police officers are performing their duties in public places and engaging in public communications audible to persons who witness the events. Even under the more lenient intermediate standard of scrutiny applicable to contentneutral burdens on speech, this application of the statute very likely flunks. The Illinois eavesdropping statute restricts far more speech than necessary to protect legitimate privacy interests; as applied to the facts alleged here, it likely violates the First Amendment’s freespeech and free-press guarantees.
I haven’t read through the entire opinion yet, or through Judge Posner’s dissent, but what I have read is good. No great.
And I’m not the only one who thinks the majority got it right. Here is Eugene Volokh’s take. And coverage from the Chicago Tribune.