But the question of how to update the law for a smartphone world is still simmering in the General Assembly, a casualty of rival approaches.
In Illinois, citizens used to whipping out a cellphone and recording almost anything at any time are confronted by peculiar circumstances if they record police. People can legally record video — but not audio — of law enforcement officers on duty. Get found guilty and face a prison term of up to 15 years, though judges and juries have been reluctant to convict people charged with recording audio of police.
The issue was supposed to be addressed this spring, but lawmakers are deadlocked on what should be done. Now sponsors of two competing bills say they intend to revisit the topic this fall, when the General Assembly convenes for two weeks.
Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, sought to rectify the eavesdropping statute by allowing citizens to record audio of police who are on duty and in public. Nekritz failed in her first attempt but ended up pushing her proposal out of the House. To soften initial concerns, she added a provision to make clear that someone who tampers with a recording of an officer can be charged with a felony. That's because police feared people would use technology to put words in their mouths.
Even so, the measure ran into trouble in the Senate when Sen. Michael Noland, D-Elgin, refused to call it for a vote or allow someone else to sponsor the bill. In turn, Noland introduced his own version, but he encountered roadblocks.
The measure also would allow citizens to record police. Noland also wanted to give officers more powers to listen in on citizens. Police could record audio and video of citizens in public or even at home or another private place if responding to a 911 call or other incident, so long as a law enforcement officer says he or she is recording.
Republican Sen. John Millner, a former Elmhurst police chief, said the bill would hold police to a higher standard than many other states because of the requirement that authorities tell citizens they're recording.
Noland said it would increase an officer's own accountability if he carried a recording device while on the job.
"It's not just a matter of simply catching the police in a bad act. We want to prevent those bad acts to begin with," Noland said.
Noland attempted to pass his bill on the final day of session last month. But he faced withering attacks from opponents.
"If you ever want to walk down the street and just have a private conversation, beware. Beware," said Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, who argued that the Noland bill would throw the Illinois Constitution "out the window."
"We need the courts to first resolve where we can go legislatively with this before we do this huge, huge expansion of eavesdropping," Raoul said.