Know Your Rights

High Court strikes down state law to prevent videotaping police

Although Illinois has some of the toughest laws against monitoring the police, TSA and other authority figures, the Supreme Court this week struck down an eavesdropping law that allowed for the imprisonment of up to 15 years for the “crime” of videotaping police while on duty.   The Supreme Court ruled the law violates the right to free speech.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the law in 2010 in response to legal trouble regarding the group’s video recording of officers while on duty.  The high court left in place a lower court’s decision that the anti-eavesdropping law in Illinois violates the Constitution.  The law had been in place in the state for 50 years.

Outrageously, Illinois prosecutors pleaded with the Supremes that the lower court’s decision provides “a novel and unprecedented First Amendment protection to ubiquitous recording devices”.  First amendment protection is unprecedented?  Who knew.  Apparently, state prosecutors believe that the protection of first amendment rights of the American people is somehow strange.

Civil libertarians and lovers of freedom and liberty, of course, believe the monitoring of enforcement officers in this country is not only a protected constitutional right (apparently, the court agrees), but also a critical monitoring tactic to ensure against the abuse of powers given to police and government.  Americans should, and do, have every right and obligation to “watch the watchers”.

After victory, the ACLU said of the incident, “Empowering individuals and organizations in this fashion will ensure additional transparency and oversight of public officials across the state.”

The case now goes to an Illinois district court in Chicago where the ACLU will ask a judge to make the temporary injunction of the enforcement of the law permanent.

This comes just months after a similar case in the District of Columbia, where a bystander to a traffic stop on a public street in our nation’s capital was detained and questioned for 30-minutes after snapping pictures of the incident.  The ACLU filed suit on behalf of the man, and the court ruled “a bystander has the right under the First Amendment to observe and record members in the public discharge of their duties.”  Videotaping officers while on duty is perfectly legal and constitutional provided the photographer is not interfering with enforcement officers.

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