Friday, June 10, 2011

Speaking out against Eavesdropping Act

Bob Roberts in the Illinois News Broadcasters Association newsletter TuneIN writes about the state legislature's Eavesdropping Act:

In newsrooms across Illinois, there's a daily mantra.

"Before we go any further, I'd like to make sure I have permission to record this conversation."

It's something I've said anytime I begin to tape the interview since I can remember. Most of the time I double-check by telling my interview subject, "Thank you again for agreeing to be recorded."

That's because Illinois law is clear: No conversation can legally be recorded unless all parties to it agree.

For those who are Illinois "lifers," it may come as a surprise that the law in other states is not uniform. In fact, a number of states don't require you, the journalist, to tell anyone you're recording.

The Illinois law is being challenged in the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, and RTDNA, SPJ, NPPA, the American Society of News Editors, the Citizen Media Law Project, Reports Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) and the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors have all filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the suit ACLU v. Anita Alvarez challenging the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, which RCFP Executive Director Lucy Dalglish calls "shockingly broad."

RCFP says that the brief, filed April 22, asserts that the "disposition of this case is critically important in setting a precedent that will either protect or endanger newsgatherers' constitutional rights."

Dalglish said Illinois is not the only state with a law she considers "overly broad," but said in some states similar statues have led to citizens being arrested while shooting video or still photographs of public events in public places.

"This is the most outrageous statue we've found," she said. "These unconstitutional arrests tend to have one thing in problem: they occur after someone in power, often a law enforcement official, decides he or she does not like the speech or conduct captured on the recording. The notion that you can be arrested for documenting that behavior should send chills down the spines of anyone who cares about the Constitution."

Unfortunately, INBA lacks the resources to join such a fight on a continuing basis. But I wish those who are pressing the case good luck.