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
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
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.