Wednesday, June 15, 2011

When The Table Is Turned On Eavesdropping, Police Fight Back

Increasingly, big brother government is watching every move we make, whether it is eavesdropping on telephone and computer messages, or installing surveillance cameras on city street corners to record our movements in public. The public, meanwhile, has increasingly kept a closer watch on government officials and police officers by recording them as they carry out their public duties whether they like being recorded or not. The media took notice after police officers started arresting private citizens for recording their actions for vague charges like disorderly conduct or interfering with a police officer. Normally, those charges don't stick. What may surprise some people is that some states, including neighboring Illinois, have toughened their eavesdropping laws to the point where it is a crime to record any conversation without a person's consent, even in cases where there should have been no expectation of privacy. Under newly-defined state laws, members of the public are being charged with eavesdropping, a felony charge, for recording police actions without their consent.

The Huffington Post provides two glaring examples of how the Illinois' eavesdropping law is being used as a hammer against the state's citizens who attempt to record events to protect them against what they perceive to be an overreaching government. In one case, a woman attempted to file a complaint against a Chicago police officer who sexually groped her while responding to a domestic call. When police frustrated her efforts to file a complaint, she began recording their conversation. The woman was later arrested for surreptitiously recording her conversation with police while months later no charges have been brought against the police officer who sexually groped her.

HP recounts a more egregious case where a Robinson, Illinois man, Michael Allison, is facing a potential 75-years in prison for recording his conversations with police over a local zoning ordinance dispute after he attempted to use a digital recorder to record a court proceeding and police discovered the recorded conversations on his digital recorder after the judge ordered him arrested:

This Robinson, Ill., man is facing four counts of violating the eavesdropping law for the recordings he made of police officers and a judge. Allison was suing the city to challenge a local zoning ordinance that prevented him from enjoying his hobby fixing up old cars: The municipal government was seizing his cars from his property and forcing him to pay to have them returned. Allison believed the local police were harassing him in retaliation for his lawsuit, so he began to record his conversations with them.

When Allison was eventually charged with violating the zoning ordinance, he asked for a court reporter to ensure there would be a record of his trial. He was told that misdemeanor charges didn't entitle him to a court reporter. So Allison told court officials he'd be recording his trial with a digital recorder.

When Allison walked into the courtroom the day of his trial, the judge had him arrested for allegedly violating her right to privacy. Police then confiscated Allison's digital recorder, where they also found the recordings he'd made of his conversations with cops.

Allison has no prior criminal record. If convicted, he faces up to 75 years in prison.

In a hearing last week, Allison argued that the Illinois eavesdropping case was a violation of the First Amendment. The judge ordered a continuance so that the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan can prepare a response. (Madigan's office did not respond to HuffPost's request for comment.)
HP rightly concludes that convictions in these cases will likely make their way to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court in appeals that will likely focus on whether the state laws violate a citizen's First Amendment rights. HP notes the irony that Illinois would have such a law where Chicago police have been at the center of criminal prosecutions in federal court for abusing the rights of defendants through unlawful interrogation attempts, including torture, and face more citizen complaints for police misconduct than virtually any city in America.

It's difficult to think of another big city in America where citizens would be more justified in wanting an objective account of an interaction with a police officer. At about the time Moore's story hit the pages of The New York Times earlier this year, for example, former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for lying under oath about his role in the routine torture of hundreds of suspects in police interrogation rooms for more than a decade. Nearly everyone else involved in the tortures, including the police commanders and prosecutors who helped cover them up, couldn't be prosecuted due to statutes of limitations.

Over the last few years, surveillance video has also exposed a number of police abuses in Chicago, including one episode in which an off-duty cop savagely beat a female bartender who had refused to continue serving him. He was sentenced to probation.

In 2008, the city made national headlines with another major scandal in which officers in the department's Special Operations Unit -- alleged to be made up of the most elite and trusted cops in Chicago -- were convicted of a variety of crimes, including physical abuse and intimidation, home robberies, theft and planning a murder.

In a study published the same year, University of Chicago Law Professor Craig B. Futterman found 10,000 complaints filed against Chicago police officers between 2002 and 2004, more than any city in the country. When adjusted for population, that's still about 40 percent above the national average. Even more troubling, of those 10,000 complaints, just 19 resulted in any significant disciplinary action. In 85 percent of complaints, the police department cleared the accused officer without even bothering to interview him.


Paul K. Ogden said...

The state law in most states, including Indiana, is that as long as one party to the conversation knows it is being recorded, it's perfectly legal. There are a few exceptions of course.

Illinois though is one of a distinct minority of states that makes it illegal to secretly record a conversation without the other party's knowledge.

I recently re-researched the issue. Another attorney has a case where they're making that claim about an Indiana woman, that she recorded a convo illegally and the other side cited to a 7th Circuit case. But the 7th Circuit case was interpreting the Illinois law, not Indiana's.

Illinois needs to change its law.

Cato said...

Good article, Gary. When will America realize that cops are not on our side and are working ceaselessly to conquer this country?

We need to pull the plug on this failed experiment of having public police before they destroy the country.

Reality is the enemy of imagination, so many Americans cannot conceive of life without police. We must again realize, as our forebears did, that police are no guarantors of safety or freedom.

If we wish to save this country as a home of freedom, we must immediately turn away from the current constitution of police departments.

We have surely been conquered from within more totally and effectively than we could ever have been conquered by a foreign invader.

Advance Indiana said...

Cato, I'm much less concerned about police departments than I am about the secret government that operates to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars annually that cannot be tracked or scrutinized for the sake of "national security." That is the real threat to the Republic. The secret federal government has essentially displaced the government of limited powers established under the U.S. Constitution. It is answerable to nobody. Our government won't even officially recognize its existence.

Cato said...

The "secret government" mainly operates offshore and doesn't really affect you, unless they manage to tick off someone over there who seeks revenge on our shores. That can't possibly happen, can it?

The secret government is Dicky Lugar's CFR buddies and Mitch's corporate pals going around the world making it safe for the flow of raw materials, mainly energy, to the U.S. There's a heavy dose of pro-Israel in there, too. Also some central bankers in the mix, needed to keep the shell game going.

In your day-to-day life, statistically speaking, the most significant lethal threat you face is from the police. With no right to resist, courts siding always with the police in lethal shoots, and the removal of the requirement to knock, it's getting worse, faster.

Now, if you want to talk about the Pittsburgh G20 police goon squads, you have an actual intersection of the secret and open governments working to attack America.

How many of those innumerable G20 police brutality videos made it on Brian Williams' broadcast?

Advance Indiana said...

There are businesses operating all over the U.S., as well as outside our borders, under the cover of black government operations. You could be doing business with a covered business or agent and never know it.

mphill109 said...

Hey cato, northern mexico has a non-existened police force...its not working out to good for them...

Indy4u2c said...

Looks to me this is not a police issue, but a legislative issue.