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Christopher Drew, a 60-year-old school teacher, faces 15 years in prison for taping a conversation he had with a police officer.  (Source: José Moré/Chicago News Cooperative)

The Chicago police had 10,000 complaints of brutality, assault, and other wrong-doing filed against them between 2002 and 2004.  (Source: AFP/Getty Images)

  (Source: OBEY Images)
Class 1 Felony of recording a conversation is just below the prison time you'd spend for murder

We've often written on the disconnect between current laws and the reality of the digital age.  When a person gets charged over a million dollars for pirating and sharing a few songs, and a robber stealing a dozen CDs might have to a pay a few hundred in fines, the system can seem incredibly flawed at times.

Another example of this disconnect that has recently been brought into sharp focus include laws that police are using to try to prosecute those that digitally record their actions.  We already covered how police in some areas can arrest you, if you videotape or photograph them in a public or private setting.  Well, in some areas they can arrest you for even recording an audio conversation.

Illinois is one of the states with the toughest laws against audiotaping a conversation between you and another party without their knowledge.  The law [text] states that you can face up to 15 years in prison for committing the offense. 

Christopher Drew, a 60-year-old artist and teacher living in Chicago, is facing the charge after audio taping a conversation he had with the police.  In an interview with The New York Times, he remarks on his potential 15 years of hard prison time, "That's one step below attempted murder."

He adds, "Before they arrested me for it. I didn’t even know there was a law about eavesdropping. I wasn’t trying to sue anybody. I just wanted somebody to know what had happened to me."

He is not alone.  Other Chicago residents, including Tiawanda Moore, a 20-year-old former stripper, face similar charges.  They all have one thing in common -- their charges follow audio taping conversations with police.  The law is seldom applied in other situations – in fact, most don't even know it exists.  The law even makes it a lesser offense to tape a civilian once (a Class 4 felony) or twice (a Class 3 felony), versus taping a law enforcement officer (a Class 1 felony).

Ms. Moore's story is among the most alarming.  She is being charged with the Class 1 felony of eavesdropping using a digital device after recording on her Blackberry a conversation she had with two internal affairs officers.  The conversation occurred during her attempt to report a separate police officer for sexual harassment.  Now she's set for a February 7 trial in Cook County Criminal Court and may spend more than a decade in prison.

Contrast this state of affairs with the fact that Chicago police officers have one of the most stained reputations for police brutality.  According to a 2007 CNN report, 10,000 complaints -- many of them involving brutality and assault -- were filed between 2002 and 2004.  

Along with laws against video taping police in public, the measures against video and audio taping police encounters seem like a concerted effort to chain the hands of the citizenry and prevent them from reporting misconduct and wrongdoing.  Without direct evidence, claims are often discarded and laughed out of court.

The Illinois branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.) fought the law -- it has sued the state of Illinois twice -- but the law won.  Its case, which asserted that the eavesdropping law violates the First Amendment and hinders citizens from monitoring the public behavior of police officers and other officials, has been thrown out of court twice.  

Mark Donahue, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said his organization cheered the decision, stating that he "absolutely supports" throwing those who tape police officers behind bars.

He complains that citizens monitoring police activities for wrongdoing might "affect how an officer does his job on the street."

As Ms. Moore and Mr. Drew contemplate on what their life might be like spending the next decade and a half on a prison cot, many in other states face similar situations.  Massachusetts and Oregon both make it illegal to digitally record (i.e. "eavesdrop") on an officer.  And a number of states are considering similar legislation.

Comments     Threshold

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There is no disconnect
By Beenthere on 1/24/2011 2:37:34 PM , Rating: -1
Digital criminals think they are above the law and able to hide behind a PC monitor. Thus they get punished for their arrogance and stupidity in addition to their crimes. They are so dumb they don't learn from small fines and short jail sentences. See the Pirate Bay clowns as an example of people in denial. The only good pirate is in prison or dead.

Punishment is suppose to be a deterrent not a family picnic. If you can't do the time then don't do the crime. The more scum we get off the streets and in prison, the better. Being in denial doesn't make you right, it just makes you in denial.

In some countries they cut off your hands for stealing. Maybe pirates should get a option list of 20 years in prison or the loss of one hand and ten years in prison?

RE: There is no disconnect
By quiksilvr on 1/24/2011 2:44:46 PM , Rating: 3
There is punishing and extortion. This is extortion to the nth degree. You can't just throw someone in jail for 15 years just because they recorded a conversation between two parties. That is ridiculous and puts an unnecessary strain on the system already.

One month would get the point across for something as trivial as this.

RE: There is no disconnect
By JasonMick on 1/24/2011 2:46:15 PM , Rating: 5
Ever sung a song in public?

That's a performance, without paying royalties, and is as illegal as sharing music online, according to copyright law in the U.S., Britain, etc...

Now which hand did you have in mind?

RE: There is no disconnect
By Murloc on 1/24/2011 2:51:59 PM , Rating: 2
okay, but the disconnection comes out if you compare jail time for violent crime and taping.
You can agree that violent crime is something horrible and very nocive to the society, but taping is something stupid.
People who kill can spend less time in prison.
That's the disconnection.

RE: There is no disconnect
By morphologia on 1/24/2011 2:53:27 PM , Rating: 2
First of all, you seem to be ignorant of the actual topic of conversation...the harsh punishment dealt to people who attempt to gather evidence of wrongdoing by the police. The music sharing comments were obviously provided for perspective.

Second, punishment should always be proportionate to the wrong committed. Neither the exorbutant filesharing charges nor the draconic prison sentences for recording are the least bit justifiable.

Finally, the fact that the FOP is on board with this shows that it has one purpose: to allow cops to get away with anything, up to and including murder.

Anyone up for a boycott of Chicago?

RE: There is no disconnect
By Quadrillity on 1/24/11, Rating: 0
RE: There is no disconnect
By Parhel on 1/24/2011 4:28:58 PM , Rating: 2
Have you ever even been to Chicago? Maybe I'm partial because I live in the area, but it's my favorite big city. It has great food, nice parks, a free zoo, beaches, world class museums, nightlife, mostly OK sports teams . . . I guess . . . OK, forget that last part. But, really, compared to other large Midwestern cities, Chicago is the place to be. Would you rather live in Detroit? Cleveland? St. Louis?

RE: There is no disconnect
By Quadrillity on 1/24/2011 5:29:56 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, I would rather live in my small city. And by small I mean 1/4 million population. I have an innate problem with all super dense cities I guess.

RE: There is no disconnect
By JediJeb on 1/25/2011 10:57:54 AM , Rating: 2
I like my town of 20k residents and even better that I live 10 miles from it. I have visited Chicago and it is ok, but I could never live in a place like that. I hated the 10 years I lived in a apartment here, I much prefer being able to go outside and barely see the neighbors house like I do now.

RE: There is no disconnect
By nrhpd527 on 1/24/2011 5:44:58 PM , Rating: 2
I'd MUCH rather live in St. Louis than Chicago. At least St. Louis doesn't support a team of chronic and historically bad epic failures like the Cubs! Seriously, Chicago's only redeeming factors are its zoo, a couple of great museums, and the best style of pizza EVER! After that, not a fan at all!

RE: There is no disconnect
By Parhel on 1/24/2011 5:57:08 PM , Rating: 3
I can't argue with you on the Cubs. It's offset by the pizza, though. And, I know this is going to get me rated down, but I'm saying it anyways . . . only Chicago knows how to make a proper hot dog.

RE: There is no disconnect
By rrburton on 1/24/2011 8:39:44 PM , Rating: 3
Right on.

RE: There is no disconnect
By cmdrdredd on 1/24/2011 10:47:03 PM , Rating: 2
Have you ever even been to Chicago?

No but I lump it in with NYC, Boston, & LA as places I will never ever visit or spend money at. I'd rather give my money to Houston Texas, Lexington Kentucky, Nashville Tennessee, Huntington West Virginia, Charlotte North Carolina, numerous FL cities like Daytona, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, St. Augustine, Panama City, Mobile Alabama, Phoenix Arizona, Oklahoma City, Indianapolis Indiana.

Why? Simply because everyone I've ever met from Boston has been a liberal anti-gun pro-tax increase idiot, everyone from NYC has been a pompous douche full of themselves wearing Yankees gear when they don't even know who Mickey Mantle was, everyone from LA has been either an illegal mexican, a gang banger, or a wannabe hippie who thinks I shouldn't be allowed to drive an H1 Hummer if I can afford to and I should only own a prius and that somehow I'm a bad person because I like Steak.

RE: There is no disconnect
By Targon on 1/25/2011 9:55:22 AM , Rating: 2
You have just made a great case for why no one should take you seriously. Any large city has different areas, and the type of person living in one area will generally not be a proper representitive for how people are in other areas of the same city.

RE: There is no disconnect
By jjmcubed on 1/25/2011 9:56:12 AM , Rating: 2
Pretty cool that you can judge them without ever spending a minute there...

RE: There is no disconnect
By zixin on 1/24/11, Rating: 0
RE: There is no disconnect
By cjohnson2136 on 1/24/2011 4:04:11 PM , Rating: 2
We've often written on the disconnect between current laws and the reality of the digital age. When a person gets charged over a million dollars for pirating and sharing a few songs, and a robber stealing a dozen CDs might have to a pay a few hundred in fines, the system can seem incredibly flawed at times.

He is refering to this little portion which is suppose to give perspective on the Cop issue. Clearly he either did not read the article or thought that one paragraph was more important

RE: There is no disconnect
By bupkus on 1/24/2011 5:12:18 PM , Rating: 2
Troll. AS simple as that.

RE: There is no disconnect
By Skywalker123 on 1/25/2011 1:09:50 AM , Rating: 2
What has piratebay got to do with the topic you moron?

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