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Illinois top court strikes down eavesdropping law

The Illinois Supreme Court [official website] on Thursday declared one of the nation's harshest eavesdropping laws unconstitutional, stating the law was severely broad and violated basic free speech rights. The court ruled Thursday in People v. Clark and People v. Melongo [opinions, PDF], which both dealt with audio recording, striking down the Illinois Eavesdropping Act [text]. The 1961 Act had made it a felony to record audio of conversations without the consent of all parties involved. In its rulings, the court made it clear that the law was so broad that it could include recording "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."

This isn't the first time that the Illinois law has suffered a defeat. In 2012 the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit struck down [JURIST report] a provision of the law that barred people from taking video of police officers performing their jobs in public. Later that year the US Supreme Court denied certiorari [order list, PDF] in the case, letting the court of appeals decision stand. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) heralded [press release] the decision at the time. An ACLU spokesperson noted, "empowering individuals and organizations in this fashion will ensure additional transparency and oversight of police across the State." The ACLU pointed out that new technologies have made recording and gathering information much easier and noted the importance of the people's ability to gather information about government conduct.

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