A 42-year old Illinois man named Michael Allison is facing 75 years in prison for recording video of police. This, of course, just days after the 1st District Court of Appeals upheld the right to record police actions in public in Glik v. Cunniffe.
Michael Allison recorded video of Illinois police visiting his mother’s home to investigate his unregistered vehicles. Allison recorded the police without their consent while they fined him and impounded his vehicles. Now he faces 75 years in prison for these videos as well as those recorded at a court proceeding related to the case.
And Allison is being prosecuted under archaic laws governing eavesdropping on police. Each of the five counts of eavesdropping would bring him 15 years, as it is a class-one felony in Illinois, which puts Allison’s actions in league with rape.
Of course, police are free to videotape citizens at will.
This has all happened amidst a trend of citizens armed with smart phones recording video and audio of police arrests and encounters. Rochester, New York citizen Emily Good was arrested for videotaping a police arrest outside her home, even though she was on her property (because the officer Mario Masic felt threatened). And, of course, OpenWatch released CopRecorder and OpenWatch Recorder to monitor police encounters.
And on August 26th, in the case Glik v. Cunniffe, U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals issued a resounding and unanimous opinion in support of the First Amendment right to record police actions in public.
Simon Glick had been arrested on October 1, 2007 for videotaping police officers arresting a suspect on Boston Common. He was videotaping the police action because of perceived police brutality, and, like Allison, suffered under the boot heel of an old wiretap law—a law that was never written to govern such citizen action at all.
At least these people are not armed with guns; but as they say, information is power.
To that end, Illinois, like many other states, has sought to apply old eavesdropping and wiretapping laws to new electronic devices like the smart phone.
As Allison told NBC News 2 affiliate’s Patrick Fazio in Illinois, “To call what I did a crime is ridiculous.” Fazio, to his credit, seems to have taken up Allison’s cause and heaped some scorn on the Illinois Attorney General, saying, “The State of Illinois considers it so serious, that the Assistant State Attorney General appeared at today’s court hearing.”
Fazio notes that journalists are exempt from laws prohibiting videotaping of on-duty law enforcement officials while at public hearings, but can still be arrested if they don’t obtain permission from police officers before filming.
Illinois House Republican Chapen Rose actually attempted to introduce legislation that would have overturned the application of eavesdropping and wiretapping laws to smart phones, claiming it can be of benefit to prosecutors as well as defendants.
In a follow-up interview with Fazio, Allison stated, “If their statute says that it was illegal, then their statute is unconstitutional,” and violates seven amendments of the U.S. Constitution: First Amendment — Free Speech; Fourth — Unreasonable Search; Fifth — Due Process; Sixth — Speedy Trial; Eighth — Unusual Punishment; Ninth — Guaranteed Rights; and Fourteenth — Equal Protection.”
Allison has refused a plea deal, hoping that his case will help overturn the application of the law in Illinois and in other states.
Michael Allison is being represented by the ACLU.