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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.

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RE: Ha
By Ammohunt on 1/24/2011 3:15:54 PM , Rating: -1
To play devils advocate most videos like this are often taken out of context and used against police(you don't see the perp brandishing a weapon before the cops taser his ass). Better yet video interpreted by people ignorant of the law for the purposes of incitement e.g. the rodney king beating(everytime he moved he was technically resisting arrest). Either way i do feel its heavy handed and ignorant of the Chicago police to ban all recording they server the public what do they have to hide..not like Illinois is the most corrupt state and local government in the US run by thugs.

RE: Ha
By MozeeToby on 1/24/2011 4:17:25 PM , Rating: 5
Five armed police officers should not require "56 baton blows and six kicks" to subdue a suspect, regardless of how much he is struggling. That isn't an arrest, it's a beat down. In any context.

"11 skull fractures, permanent brain damage, broken [bones and teeth], kidney damage"

"nurses reported that the officers who accompanied King openly joked and bragged about the number of times King had been hit."

Yeah, permanent brain damage... hilarious.

RE: Ha
By AssBall on 1/24/11, Rating: -1
RE: Ha
By AssBall on 1/24/11, Rating: -1
RE: Ha
By vol7ron on 1/24/2011 10:19:45 PM , Rating: 1
The justified reason is undercover officers, which are pursuing an active investigation - similar to how the FBI just brought down a bunch of the mob the other day.

Another reason is news reporters releasing important information before the police have time to follow-up and act on it, which could help criminals get away. For instance, there was a lot of information not released to the public in the DC sniper case.

RE: Ha
By Jeffk464 on 1/25/2011 1:50:04 PM , Rating: 5
Yes, but you cant deny our freedoms because it is convenient.

RE: Ha
By snakeInTheGrass on 1/31/2011 3:21:34 PM , Rating: 2
Wow, so the undercover officers can record/edit all they want, but heaven help us if anyone else does the same? If something is out of context, then demand release of the whole tape.

A news reporter releasing something is a different case anyway - they can use freedom of the press to put stuff out as long as they can't be shown to have broken the law themselves.

I don't think you're saying these justifications make sense anyway (If I sound unhappy, it's not with you! ;) ), I think you're just stating some of the given reasons, but when someone can get 15 years for recording a cop harassing them, there's something very wrong with the system. Like the cops and the system. Clearly the cited examples in the story aren't about someone blowing an investigation or reporting on news, but are more about cops not having to obey the law themselves, and at the very least they need to modify these laws to make them only apply in those sub-cases, not broadly as they do today.

It's fine for the police to record us all they want - if we're part of the same events, it damned well should be fine for people to record as well to protect themselves from abuse.

RE: Ha
By xrodney on 1/25/2011 1:19:40 AM , Rating: 5
56 baton blows and six kicks - That sounds more like attempt for murder.

Laws in US allways were joke but now its getting really ridiculous.

In most countries those would end up in jail for 10-20 years term.

If us want to get below 3rd word then all I can say is good job in doing that.

RE: Ha
By AssBall on 1/25/2011 1:39:04 AM , Rating: 2
in most countries King would have already been serving several years in jail before he got his ass kicked.

RE: Ha
By phxfreddy on 1/28/11, Rating: 0
RE: Ha
By raelalt on 2/1/2011 3:16:59 PM , Rating: 2
That's nice Homer, now go back to sleep.

RE: Ha
By ekv on 1/25/2011 6:21:07 AM , Rating: 4
Are you serious? Do you really want to try to somehow portray Rodney King as the victim, the righteous poster-child deserving special consideration and kid-glove treatment ... ? You might want to re-think that.

If, however, you want to use the Rodney King situation to justify videotaping, then fine. I'd agree ... to a certain extent.

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home

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