ACLU v. Alvarez

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We are challenging the application of Illinois’ Eavesdropping Act to the prosecution of individuals who make audio recordings of public conversations with police, who are performing their public duties in a public place and speaking in a voice loud enough to be heard by the unassisted human ear.  The case filed in August 2010 grows out of a number of instances in which individuals or organizations that wanted to monitor police activity in order to detect any police misconduct were prosecuted under the law. The ACLU brought the lawsuit on behalf of the organization because we frequently monitor police behavior and would like to make audio recordings of police in performing their public duties. We assert that the ACLU has a First Amendment right to gather this information, disseminate that information to the public and with courts and government agencies in petitioning for redress of grievances. In January 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Conlon denied our motion for a preliminary injunction and dismissed the lawsuit ruling that there was no First Amendment right to record an on-duty police officer operating in public. We appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and six other media organizations joined as amicus on our behalf.

In May 2012, the appellate court ruled in our favor, finding that the First Amendment protects the ACLU program. The court ordered the trial court to enter a preliminary injunction in our favor. In July 2012, the federal district court issued the preliminary injunction, but also granted the State’s Attorney’s request to stay proceedings while they seek review of the Appeals Court’s decision by the Supreme Court of the United States.