Imagine a public figure sexually assaulting you in your own home, and then being charged with a crime when you try to lodge a complaint against that figure, because you taped the call.
That is the situation that Tiawanda Moore is facing at the moment, after having been the victim of sexual harassment at the hands of a police officer who came to investigate a domestic disturbance call in her house.
According to a Huffington Post article, Moore claims that after the officer took her into her bedroom to interview her privately, he groped her chest and gave her his home phone number. When she tried to report the incident to the Internal Affairs sector of the Chicago Police Department, officials were not helpful and, as her boyfriend says, “discouraged her from filing a report.” So, she did the smart thing, and taped her conversation with the officials. Unfortunately, that’s a crime in her state.
As the article discusses, Massachusetts and Illinois are the
only 2 states in the U.S. which have with the strictest privacy laws, making it illegal for anyone to record a conversation with another party is the other party is not aware, a crime usually prosecuted when the party being covertly taped is a police officer.
“Technically, so long as a person isn’t physically interfering with an on-duty police officer, it’s legal to record the officer in every state but Massachusetts and Illinois. Arrests still happen in other states, but there’s little legal justification for them, and the charges are usually dropped, or never filed at all.”
However, even with this distinction, Illinois surpasses Massachusetts in the lack of transparency it allows.
“…Illinois is the one state where the law clearly forbids citizens from recording of on-duty cops…(Courts in Massachusetts have generally held that secretly recording police is illegal, but recording them openly isn’t.)”
Which is exactly what happened to Moore, who was arrested later that day and now faces a charge which could put her in jail for 15 years.
The ACLU has called for a reform of this Illinois law in many cases, but none have made their way to the Supreme Court yet, often because district attorney drops the charges to a misdemeanor before the case goes to trial. However, if we allow the law to remain out of the hands of the public, we also take away a person’s best weapon against his attackers: their very own statements.
Many states allow people to record their conversations with others as long as there would be no obvious reason why the party who is being taped would think he was speaking in confidence (i.e. when talking to a doctor or lawyer, when someone specifies the conversation is off the record, etc.). I think we should work harder to make sure that when people tape something in order to defend themselves they do not then become the unintended victims of their own efforts.
For more information, read the full article at the Huffington Post, or check out this related Techdirt article.