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Editorial: Protect the public’s right to eavesdrop

Updated: November 4, 2011 10:15AM

If a police officer seemed about to do something illegal, would you have a right to electronically record the evidence?

Most people in Illinois probably would think the answer is yes. And they’d be right — sort of. But it’s that “sort of” that troubles us and makes us think the law needs to be strengthened to protect citizens.

The issue came up last week in the case of Tiawanda Moore, 20, who was acquitted Wednesday on eavesdropping charges after using her BlackBerry to secretly record two Chicago Police investigators in 2010. She said she did it because the investigators were coaxing her not go forward with a sexual harassment complaint against a different officer.

By taping the officers, Moore ran afoul of the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, which prohibits the recording of private or public conversations without the consent of all parties. But there’s an exemption: It’s OK if someone believes a crime is being committed or about to be committed.

The investigators were not accused of doing anything illegal in the end, but that’s not the point. The point is that Moore reasonably could have thought they might have been on the verge of doing so.

Although Moore’s actions fell under the exemption, Cook County prosecutors tried to convict her anyway. One prosecutor even told jurors: “The content of the tape is not the issue. The issue is that the words were taped.”

What good is this right if authorities can try to put you in prison anyway? Even if you are acquitted, you may have big legal bills and a disrupted life.

Until 1994, Illinois’ eavesdropping act regulated only private conversations. That year, the General Assembly expanded it to cover public conversations as well.

Moore’s case makes it clear it’s time to take another look at the law and give citizens better protections.

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