In August 2010, we sued the Cook County State’s Attorney, Anita Alvarez, seeking to enjoin prosecution of the ACLU under the Illinois Eavesdropping Act for expanding our police monitoring program to include audio recording of on-duty police in public places. The case arose from a number of instances in which individuals or organizations that wanted to monitor police activity in order to detect any misconduct were prosecuted under the law. The ACLU itself was the plaintiff in this case because we frequently monitor police behavior and wanted to make audio recordings of police performing their public duties. We asserted that the ACLU has a First Amendment right to gather this information, disseminate it to the public, and present it to 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 sought review of the Appeals Court’s decision by the Supreme Court of the United States. In November 2012, the Supreme Court denied the defendant’s request for review. In December 2012, the federal district court granted our unopposed motion for summary judgment, and in January 2013 issued the permanent injunction that we sought.
In a later case, the Illinois Eavesdropping Act was also struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court. (People v. Melongo, 2014 IL 114852.) The current version of the statute, enacted in 014, only prohibits recording of private conversations. There is currently no prohibition of recording police officers in public in Illinois.