Illinois’ eavesdropping law is no more. The Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional Thursday. Gabriel Plotkin, the lawyer who won the case, explains what was wrong with the law. “It didn’t limit the eavesdropping law to private conversations. That was the goal the legislature set out when it enacted the law (in 1961), to protect people’s privacy. But they ended up defining conversations to include any conversation, even if nobody intended for it to be private,” he said.
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The case was People vs. Melongo. Plotkin represented Annabel Melongo, who recorded three telephone conversations between herself and a court reporter supervisor at the criminal court building in Cook County. She spent 20 months in jail. The court ruled the statute “criminalizes a wide range of innocent conduct:
“The statute criminalizes the recording of conversations that cannot be deemed private: a loud argument on the street, a political debate on a college quad, yelling fans at an athletic event, or any conversation loud enough that the speakers should expect to be heard by others.
“None of these examples implicate privacy interests, yet the statute makes it a felony to audio record each one. Judged in terms of the legislative purpose of protecting conversational privacy, the statute’s scope is simply too broad,” the court ruled.
The law required anyone being recorded to consent to it, even if they had no expectation of privacy. Violations were a felony.
Plotkin says with today’s decision, there is now no law regarding the recording of oral communication, so if lawmakers wish to protect legitimate privacy interests, they’ll have to pass a new, constitutional law.