In March the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously overturned that state’s draconian Eavesdropping Act, finding that it “criminalizes a wide range of innocent conduct” and “burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to serve a legitimate state interest in protecting conversational privacy.” Last week the Illinois General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a new eavesdropping law that purports to meet the court’s constitutional concerns. Whether it actually does is a matter of dispute.
The bill, which awaits Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature, allows people to record conversations when all parties have consented or when none has a “reasonable expectation” of privacy. That’s an improvement over the old law, which made it a felony to record any conversation without all-party consent, including public interactions with police officers. But because it may be difficult to determine in advance which conversations will be deemed private, the new version of the eavesdropping ban could still have a chilling effect on recordings of public officials.
The ACLU of Illinois, which challenged the old law, objects to a provision in the new one that broadens the circumstances in which police may record private conversations without a warrant. But the ACLU likes the other changes made by the bill:
It is good that the new eavesdropping statute enacted during the veto session generally protects our reasonable expectations of privacy in our conversations, phone calls, and electronic communications from unwanted recording or interception, and that it does so without intruding on our First Amendment right to expose government misconduct by recording the non-private conversations of on-duty government officials. The new statute does this by prohibiting the recording and intercepting of only private conversations, unless there is all-party consent or a warrant.