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Judge casts doubt on ACLU challenge to law forbidding audio recording of cops

Updated: November 9, 2011 5:50PM

A senior appeals court judge said Tuesday that if Illinois’ eavesdropping law were expanded, gang bangers and “snooping” reporters would run rampant, secretly recording conversations unchecked.

“If you permit the audio recordings, they’ll be a lot more eavesdropping. … There’s going to be a lot of this snooping around by reporters and bloggers,” U.S. 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner said. “Yes, it’s a bad thing. There is such a thing as privacy.”

Posner, considered one of the most influential jurists on the appeals panel, made his comments Tuesday morning as the Illinois American Civil Liberties Union argued to change current law to make it legal to audio record public officials in public areas.

Right now, it is legal to video record police officials in public areas but it is illegal to audio record them — or anyone else — without their consent, said Illinois ACLU Legal Director Harvey Grossman.

Grossman said the ACLU wants the federal court to issue an injunction preventing the Cook County State’s Attorney from “indicting us when we seek to record the activities and the speech of police officers in public.

“The law in Illinois is an aberration,” Grossman said. “It’s virtually unheard of for law enforcement officers in other states in our country to be able to use eavesdropping laws as a weapon against citizens who seek to do nothing more than record their activities and oral expressions.”

Last month, a 20-year-old Indiana woman was brought to trial on charges that she secretly recorded police officers. The woman, Tiawanda Moore, said she taped internal affairs officers on her Blackberry because they were trying to convince her to not go forward with a sexual harassment complaint.

Moore said she didn’t know about the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, which prohibits the recording of any private or public conversations without the consent of all parties.

A jury acquitted her.

Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney James C. Pullos argued before the three-member appeals panel Tuesday that police officers do have privacy interests while they’re trying to conduct investigations and there shouldn’t be a concern that their discussions could possibly be manipulated and broadcast.

Posner theorized there were possible dangers in changing the law with regard to gang members.

“The gangs who are interested in monitoring each other will rejoice in your case,” Posner told the ACLU.

He said gang members who want to snoop on each other could start secretly recording conversations and say they’re protected because they were taping suspected police informants.

After court, Grossman said the ACLU’s intent is to be able to record in public places. They want the change so protesters, for instance, would have the ability to both audio record and video record police officers and their reactions to those assembling.

The appeals panel will issue a formal written ruling on the matter in upcoming months.

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