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Supreme Court rejects plea to enforce anti-eavesdropping law aimed at blocking taping of police

November 26, 2012 8:20:55 PM PST
The future of the Illinois Eavesdropping Law is now uncertain after the U.S. Supreme Court sided with a lower-court ruling that key parts of the law are unconstitutional. That ruling found the law violates the 1st Amendment when used against those who record police officers.

The Illinois Eavesdropping Law has been used to arrest people who have videotaped police. It's the toughest like it in the country, but the U.S. Supreme Court doesn't want to review it, which could leave the laws future hanging in the balance.

Louis Frobe is one of those fighting the controversial law. Frobe was on his way to a movie in August of 2010 when he was stopped for speeding in far north suburban Lindenhurst.

Frobe didn't think he did anything wrong, so he whipped out his flip camera and started recording. That's when the officer arrested him.

OFFICER: "That recording?"

FROBE: "Yes, yes I've been."

OFFICER: "Was it recording all of our conversation"

FROBE: "Yes."

OFFICER: "Guess what. You were eavesdropping on our conversation. I did not give you permission to do so. Step out of the vehicle."

Frobe was charged with felony eavesdropping. After spending a night in jail the charges were dropped.

Frobe sued, challenging the law saying it infringes on his constitutional rights. His lawyer is still fighting in court.

"If you have the capability to record what is happening and use that, or if there happens to be somebody else recording, that's a piece of evidence that really helps you," said civil rights attorney Torri Hamilton.

Some cases have actually won.

In May, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the law likely violates the 1st Amendment when it's used against people who record police officers doing their jobs in public.

"We're talking about a police officer on the street performing his public duties on duty and talking at a level at which someone walking by can hear it and write it down," said Hamilton. "The difference in using a device we all have these days to record it seems illogical and absurd."

But those that support the law say it protects the privacy rights of officers and civilians, and ensures that people doing the recording don't interfere with urgent police work.

In a statement released Monday, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said:

We respect and accept the Court's decision in this matter and we are continuing to review all legal options as the case proceeds in U.S. District Court."

The Illinois Eavesdropping Act was enacted in 1961 and sets a maximum punishment of 15 years in prison if a law enforcement officer is recorded.


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