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Illinois Eavesdropping Act stirs controversy

Opponents of the Illinois Eavesdropping Act are speaking up about their apprehensions with the law.

CHICAGO—The Illinois Eavesdropping Act, a long-overlooked  Illinois law, has been stirring controversy. The law forbids the recording of audio of law enforcement in a public place, but does  allow for photos or silent video to be taken. Recently, several civilians were arrested for breaking this very law.

While some people find this law to be archaic and outdated, others see the eavesdropping act as the best way to protect police officers who are trying to perform their duties. Anita Alvarez, Cook County State’s Attorney, fully backs the enforcement of the law and is fighting for charges against offenders of the act. One reporter took to Michigan Avenue to ask passersby: “Do you agree with the idea of reversing the Illinois Eavesdropping Act?”

Opinions were mixed.

Some critics felt the law might hinder police.  Joe Lubig, a 44 year-old from Marquette, Michigan noted, “Aren’t they putting people in a box? I mean, even if a police officer needs it for their own defense later on? I would guess that an officer would want to access the audio if it existed, so it would it be off limit then? I would ask about that.”

Barbara Cornell, a 57 year-old from Washington, D.C. felt the law could be of use during protests, such as Occupy Wall Street.  “I think it’s (reversal of the eavesdropping act) a good idea. It’s not just for the protection of citizens who do, unfortunately need to be protected from the police as a power; it’s a protection for the police officers themselves.”

Joe Lubig said, “Personally, I would say as a civics educator that I would disagree with that. If we want transparency in our government, and transparency in all we do, because most likely it will be happen-stance so how will you police it?”

The bill to reverse the eavesdropping act has a surprising supporter as well, Chicago Police Department’s superintendent, Gary McCarthy. McCarthy, who once  worked for the NYPD, finds the restrictions on audio to interfere with his work as a police officer. He has mentioned his concern in not being able to record his arrests of civilians so as to prove he read them their rights and treated them justly.

He has also expressed difficulty in coming to terms with the law and enforcing it, but will continue to as long as it is still law. He said, “If the law makes sense, doesn’t make sense, we’re in charge with enforcing it. The law is the law.”

Will the bill be passed and change this antiquated law? Or will it slip under the radar as other issues and controversies arise in the continuing presidential campaigns and debates over the coming months?

Photo by : Seth Perlman, courtesy of the Associated Press

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.