Illinois man faces 75 years in prison relating to allegedly illegal surveillance

 - 
09/14/2011

A Facebook connection of mine recently posted a link to a YouTube video that got me all fired up. The video details the developing story of Michael Allison, an Illinois man who, in an attempt to protect himself and his aged mother from what he considered police harrassment, recorded police he felt were abusing their power. Allison now faces 75 years in prison because he had the audacity to record police whom he felt were misbehaving on his property. These police weren't even in public... they were on his (or his mother's) property and because Allison recorded their voices without their consent on his cell phone during the exchange, they're hitting him with five counts--based on some archaic laws on the books in Illinois--of felonious eavesdropping. It's a class 1 felony in Illinois and literally equates Allison, if convicted, as a felon as bad as murderers and rapists... Really? The police have nothing better to do?

So when I watched the video I got pretty fired up, given that surveillance is something I write about an awful lot, most recently compiling a sourcebook article on surveillance and civil liberties, with a focus on Chicago. I spoke with people from the municipal side in Chicago who maintained public surveillance was a necessity as well as folks from the ACLU, who claimed civil liberties were being infringed upon by surveillance in public.

Police, of course, are allowed to videotape citizens at will.

Ken Kirschenbaum has, in his email newsletter, delt in past with liability issues relating to surveillance, especially audio.

They Huffington Post has an interesting look at the Allison case as well, as does a site called Death & Taxes, which points out that the Allison case is pressing ahead "just days after the 1st District Court of Appeals upheld the right to record police actions in public in Glik v. Cunniffe."

I put out emails to the Chicago chapter of the ACLU as well as to some former police with whom I'm acquainted to see if anyone had any input. I've heard nothing back from the ALCU, but former police officer and Illinois Electronic Security Association president Chet Donati (DMC Security) got back to me with some input. He seemed a little surprised by what's going on in the Allison case.

"If what this guy asserts is true," Chet told me, "it seems like they're taking the law to an expensive and unnecessary extreme."

Chet has spoken with SSN a lot lately, for stories about his trials and tribulations with former IESA executive director Marsha Kopan as well as in regards to the association's ongoing battles with local fire districts.

This is certainly an interesting and messed up story. I'd love to get your opinion. Do you think citizens should have the right to record police in public or in private? Do you think Michael Allison needs to be put away in federal prison with rapists, murderers and thieves for the remainder of his life because he had the gall to record police pushing him and his mother aroundwithout their permission? Are anti-eavesdropping laws archaic? Or are they defensible?

Let me know your thoughts.