Ill. Supreme Court Strikes Down Eavesdropping Law

Jenny Tsay, Esq.

The Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state’s eavesdropping law, which was one of the harshest in the country.

Before the court intervened, the statute prohibited anyone from recording conversations, even ones held in public, without the consent from the people being recorded, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The Illinois Supreme Court found the statute’s scope to be too broad.

The Law Before the Court Decision

Prior to the court decision, the 1961 Illinois Eavesdropping Act made it a felony for anyone to record a conversation unless all parties involved agreed to it.

Under the statute, a person commits eavesdropping when he knowingly or intentionally uses an eavesdropping device with the intention of hearing or recording any part of any conversation or intercept. It’s also illegal to retain or transcribe the recording without consent.

Not only was it illegal to use an eavesdropping device, but it was also illegal to manufacture, assemble, distribute, or possess any electronic or mechanical eavesdropping device. So as long as the device was created for the purpose of stealthily hearing or recording conversations, it was punishable under the law.

Under the law, recording fans at a pep rally or a loud fight in the streets would be illegal.

Illinois Supreme Court Decision

For individuals charged under the eavesdropping statute, a criminal defense attorney in Chicago would likely argue that statute violated the First Amendment.

A similar line of reasoning was used by the Illinois Supreme Court. The court found that the recording provision of the eavesdropping statute burdens more speech than is necessary to serve the state’s legitimate interest in protecting privacy in conversations, according to the Associated Press.

Even though the eavesdropping statute was struck down, it’s still lawful to protect truly private conversations, like ones between private citizens if they’ve made every effort to keep their voices to themselves.

What’s interesting is that before the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the eavesdropping law, the Seventh Circuit Federal Appeals Court found the statute to be unconstitutional. The federal appellate court found the law likely violated the First Amendment when it punished people for recording public officials conducting public business in a public place.

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Ill. Supreme Court Strikes Down Eavesdropping Law