Chicago States Attorney Lets Bad Cops Slide, Prosecutes Citizens Who Record Them

Radley Balko write on The Huffington Post about recent cases in Illinois of prosecutors going after citizens who record their interactions with the police. Apparently, Illinois law takes a hard line on recording the conversations of others, especially police officers. You would think that a state with such a seedy past of graft and corruption would fight back against that with laws that empower people to make recordings when there is not a reasonable right to privacy.

Balko writes about the importance of empowering people with recorders:

The ACLU of Illinois is also challenging the law. But in January, U.S. District Court Judge Suzanne B. Conlon ruled against the organization. Conlon wrote that the First Amendment does not protect citizens who record the police. The ACLU has appealed and expects to participate in oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit sometime in the fall.

In a report released just this month, the United Nations noted the importance of Internet access and personal technology in facilitating the recent Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East. Technology has given citizens all over the world a remarkable and historic tool to bring transparency to the most brutal and oppressive governments.

But even as Americans have criticized those countries for attempting to prevent protesters from uploading photo, video, blog posts and Twitter accounts of government crackdowns, government officials in the U.S. are still arresting, threatening, intimidating and harassing Americans who attempt to document police abuse in America. See this example over Memorial Day in Miami.

No, America isnt Egypt or Yemen or Iran. But while the scale of the suppression is different, the premise is the same: When a citizen and a police officer have a confrontation, the police officers narrative has always given deference by prosecutors, judges and juries — in the same way governments in more oppressive parts of the world have the power to project their own version of events as truth.

Citizens in America and across the globe now have the ability to preserve and present a more objective narrative. This is a positive thing — for democracy, for good government and for a fairer criminal justice system. U.S. courts and legislatures need to make it abundantly, unambiguously clear that not only do citizens have the right to record on-duty police officers, but that cops and prosecutors who violate that right will be held accountable.

via Chicago States Attorney Lets Bad Cops Slide, Prosecutes Citizens Who Record Them.

I agree with Balko completely. Public workers, especially those with power over individuals such as the police. I also believe that judges should not be exempt from recording when there is no court reporter present. These are not private conversations taking place between individuals. These are conversations taking place within a network of power relationships with the recorders traditionally and substantially disadvantaged as compared to the recorded party.

Dystopias often have a technological bent where recording technologies give the hegemony power over its subjects. The people of Illinois should demand transparency and protection of its people from overzealous prosecutors and police who wish to deprive citizens of what should be a fundamental right to protect one’s self through recording technologies. Otherwise, our loss of this protection afforded by personal and affordable technology will only be a further erosion of our rights where the system is stacked in favor of the authorities.

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Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I direct the B.S. in Professional and Technical Writing Program and coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.