You Can And Should Record Police Encounters: It’s The Law
December 3, 2012 by Bob Livingston
Your best defense against abusive law enforcement officers is a video recorder. Almost everyone now has a recorder with them at all times, thanks to advances in smartphone technology. People should use them.
The recorder is bane to the abusive badge-wielding enforcers who resort to force, intimidation, Tasers or worse if their subject doesn’t immediately comply with all demands, no matter how ridiculous or illegal. Because of this, many civilians who have recorded their own or other people’s encounters with police have found themselves handcuffed and sitting in the back of a patrol car.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a citizen’s right to record encounters with law enforcement by letting stand a Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling making the practice legal. It overturned an anti-eavesdropping law in Illinois that made it a class 1 felony — punishable by up to 15 years in prison — for anyone to record individuals performing their duties as law enforcement officers.
The case, ACLU v. Anita Alvarez, was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which helped to set up the case by providing cheap video cameras to potential litigants to help them record their police encounters.
The law barred the recording of any conversations without the consent of all parties. It was passed as an insurance policy for corrupt Illinois politicians as recorders became more prevalent in the 1950s. It often ensnared innocent victims who were simply recording their conversations in which promises or presentations were made.
Now you can record without fear. But it would be prudent to remember the words “ACLU v. Anita Alvarez” in the likely event the enforcer you encounter is unfamiliar with the ruling. And printing out a copy and keeping it in your vehicle would be prudent. Another relevant case is Glik v. Cunniffe.