Updated May 4, 2011: A handful of national journalism organizations have filed an amici curiae brief in support of the ACLU’s appeal. They are the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, American Society of News Editors, Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Citizen Media Law Project, National Press Photographers Association, Radio Television Digital News Association and the Society of Professional Journalists.  Download Amicus Brief

Late last week, the ACLU of Illinois filed its appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in the case of The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois v. Anita Alvarez. The case involves our challenge to the application of Illinois’ Eavesdropping Act to ACLU’s police monitoring program, an aspect of which is the open audio recording of publicly made conversations of police who are performing their official duties in a public place and speaking in a voice loud enough to be heard by the unassisted human ear.

For decades, the ACLU has monitored the conduct of police at public demonstrations, rallies and parades. While in the past we have limited our monitoring to still photos and note-taking, with the advent of low cost audio-video equipment and our access to the internet, we decided to expand our monitoring to include such technologies. Unfortunately, there were a number of incidents in Illinois in the recent past in which States Attorneys in various counties, including Cook County, brought prosecutions against individuals who audio recorded police under similar circumstances. The ACLU of Illinois was concerned that we would be prosecuted if we instituted our expanded monitoring program and brought the lawsuit on behalf of the organization. The district court granted the government’s motion to dismiss the case and so we have appealed.

In our brief, we assert that the ACLU has a First Amendment right to gather, record, and disseminate information on the performance of public officials and further that we may do so as part of advancing civil liberties by using the information in petitioning for redress of grievances. Moreover, we note that the “basic tools for gathering, recording, and disseminating expression are changing dramatically in free societies around the world.”

The ACLU brief continues:

Citizens no longer are dependent upon government and private media organizations to obtain information necessary for effective participation in the process of governance. Individuals and the organizations with which they choose to associate are empowered with new technologies to seek out information on their own, to incorporate that information into their own communications, and to quickly and economically disseminate that information to millions of their fellow citizens.

We will keep you posted on developments in the case.

Download a copy of the brief.