The case stems from an ACLU challenge to the Illinois law. That law made it a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison for recording audio of police officers. You might think the law protected police in private or off duty. You would be wrong. Under Illinois law, a cop could be shouting racial epithets in the middle of the street while shooting his gun in the air and it would be illegal for a citizen to pull out her camera phone and record video with audio of the event.
For some reason, Illinois takes particular care to insulate its police officers from being subject to recording. Police there can record the citizenry at almost any time for any reason, but the police alone are given special protection from having their voices preserved. A citizen recording mere pedestrians could only be charged with a class 4 felony punishable by a 1-3 year prison term. It's only when police are the ones being recorded is the action a class 1 felony - the same as sexual assault - and it then carries the possibility of a 15 year sentence.
Perhaps the reluctance to allow citizens to record police stems from Chicago's reputation of having an out of control police force who can severley beat people without repercussions?
The ACLU claimed the law violated First Amendment rights and sought an injunction barring Illinois from enforcing the provision. While the ACLU is attempting to have the law itself overturned, that process can take years to accomplish. They sought an injunction to prevent the state from enforcing the law until the full challenge can be adjudicated.
In a 2-1 ruling, the court agreed, saying the State's Attorney had an extreme position contending that openly recording police in public was wholly unprotected activity. "Any way you look at it, the eavesdropping statute burdens speech and press rights and is subject to heightened First Amendment scrutiny."
Highlighting the power that ordinary folks with cell phones and internet connections can have in oversight of the police, video was released today in the Fullerton, California police murder of Kelly Thomas. This profoundly disturbing footage of police literally beating a man to death as he screams and cries for help would be unknown if not for the efforts of citizens with cameras and a blogger who wouldn't let the story die.
Reason made an excellent video about how new media changed the course of this case's history. The two main officers involved in that case are on trial for murder and manslaughter respectively.
Bonus footage this week released in an NYPD case where a police gang beat bloody a 19 year old, lied about why they stopped him in the first place, and includes footage of one cop kicking him while he was on the ground and handcuffed.
The Seventh Circuit ruled that "[t]he act of making an audio or audiovisual recording is necessarily included with the First Amendment's guarantee of speech and press rights..." Would the Founders agree? Though neither technology existed at the founding, do you think those who included the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights would include this behavior as protected from government action, or would they support the idea that government can imprison someone for 15 years for recording the voices of on-duty police on a public street?