An Illinois law against recording conversations was ruled unconstitutional Friday, the second time in the past year a judge has struck it down.
The eavesdropping law makes it a felony to record conversations without the consent of everyone involved. Even recording public officials in public places can be illegal.
Cook County Judge Stanley Sacks declared the law unconstitutional Friday, saying it went too far and could make "wholly innocent conduct" illegal.
The ruling comes in the case of Christopher Drew, an artist who was arrested in 2009 for selling his work on a downtown Chicago street without a permit. Police charged Drew with violating the eavesdropping law after learning he recorded conversations during his arrest.
Drew said Friday he was happy with Sacks' decision. The law should let people gather information about police conduct in public, he said.
"Otherwise, you need to come out with a big camera rolling, and they've already pulled their pants up," Drew said.
But Drew's attorney, Joshua Kutnick, said Sacks rejected Drew's claim that he had a First Amendment right to gather information on police. Instead, he said, the judge ruled the law's restrictions were simply too broad.
The decision comes as state lawmakers consider legislation to revamp the eavesdropping statute and permit the recording of public officials on duty in public places.
There was no immediate word from the Cook County state's attorney or the Illinois attorney general on whether the ruling will be appealed. A similar ruling issued by a Crawford County judge in September has already been appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.
Kutnick said the Legislature meant to protect individual privacy but went too far. He compared the law to one struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2008. That law barred secret compartments in vehicles that could hide weapons. The court said it was flawed because it also criminalized harmless uses like hiding jewelry or documents.
The attorney argued Illinois should change its law so anyone taking part in a conversation can record it. That would still protect people from having outsiders tape their conversations.
"I think the state of Illinois is finally starting to come around," Kutnick said.
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