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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 omnicronx on 1/24/2011 4:22:30 PM , Rating: 4
I'm sure the quote was taken out of context ;)

The problem is, I don't agree with him regardless of context. Otherwise, why do we have cameras on the front of police vehicles?

Its a double standard, cameras are only protection to the police when they are the ones in control.

Laws like these do nothing, just as movie theaters laws of the same nature do nothing. If someone is going to video tape something for an illegal activity, they are going to do it discretely and they are probably going to pull it off. Whether laws like these exist or not. It punishes the public and does not punish those whom the law was meant to apply to.


RE: Ha
By tmouse on 1/25/2011 8:32:53 AM , Rating: 3
Your movie theater analogy is bizarre to say the least. By that line of reasoning it would be ok to commit a crime if you do it openly? There the law says you cannot copy a copyrighted item without permission period. So someone openly taping is no less guilty then someone doing it in secret. It’s foolish to say we should not have laws because people will break them and only those that follow them will be hindered. In this case it’s the court accepted interpretation that’s weird. The law is not a no police taping law it’s an anti-eavesdropping law that can make sense in one context but not in its current context. In theory if they stated they were taping the conversation the police would have the choice to accept or stop talking after notification no charges could be filed. Now some places have different laws where taping could be considered interfering with the duties of a police officer (I really do not see how these outside of special undercover arrests cases could withstand serious judicial challenge).


RE: Ha
By xrodney on 1/25/2011 3:18:14 PM , Rating: 1
One thing is eavesdropping and other one recording your own conversation. I dont really see any problem with recording anything you want as long as you are part of it or its on your own property (unless you are renting it to someone).

Seriously if someone sent you mail its keeping copy in mail server and your computer. If you visit someone else house equipped with video security then you are being recorded. If you go to public places, shop or bank you are again being recorded.

Have no idea why if someone engage any type of communication with your person they should accept risk that that communication could be recorded.


RE: Ha
By tmouse on 1/26/2011 8:10:33 AM , Rating: 4
Depends on the state. In some states only one party needs to know in others both have to know. In your example, by mail, I'm assuming you mean e-mail which has NO legal expectation of privacy at this time outside of a third person illegally accessing the system (which is illegal system access not really reading the e-mail per se). Whoever owns the hardware is as much of an owner as the sender or recipient. ALL states that require two party notifications also requires a public notice be posted clearly on the premises that you are being recorded if the cameras are not in plain sight. Two party notification states work upon the premise that the communication is private and will not be disclosed to a third party without consent of both parties unless there is a court order in place, right or wrong that’s their premise so they can adapt a law to it. Now as I stated earlier if you tell the police you want to record the conversation then I do not see where you should be stopped from doing so. Everything a uniformed police officer does in the course of his official duties should be a matter of public record.


"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." -- North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il














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