Bar on recordings stricken by court
Cameras that document sight and sound are getting to be a fact of life for everyone.
A ruling this week by a federal appeals court should provide sufficient political cover to state legislators being urged to repeal a controversial law barring citizens from making audio recordings of police officers performing their public duties.
In a 2-1 decision this week by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, justices found that the law likely violates First Amendment free speech and free press guarantees and barred Cook County prosecutors from enforcing it.
This is the second time a federal appeals court has declared unconstitutional laws that bar citizens from using recording devices to document the actions of police officers. Originally intended to protect the privacy of ordinary citizens, police have used the law as a shield against citizens intent on documenting officers' misconduct.
Legislation to repeal the Illinois statute is pending in the General Assembly. Members of the House and Senate, however, have been reluctant to pass it and risk alienating unions representing police officers.
Now that the courts have again questioned the law's constitutional bona fides, legislators ought to be comfortable repealing it. Until it is repealed, authorities in various jurisdictions will be tempted to continue to enforce it.
Neither police officers nor any other public officials have any reason to be concerned about citizens using video cameras or cellphones to record their public conduct — unless they plan to do something wrong.
It's understandable that some officers might be initially uncomfortable with citizens pointing a camera at them, particularly those who have made their antipathy to police obvious. But all officers need to do is perform their jobs in a professional manner and not worry about the presence of cameras.
The ubiquitous nature of recording devices is the result of a new age of high technology, one where virtually everyone has recording capacity in their cellphones. This new world will require some getting used to, but it's nothing that can't be handled with a minimum of difficulty.