Illinois Eavesdropping Statute

Could a student’s use of his/her cell phone to record another unwittingly violate the Illinois Eavesdropping Statute?

Yes, any person who uses a cell phone to record another without the other’s permission violates the Illinois eavesdropping statute, which is contained in Article 14 of the Illinois Criminal Code, 720 ILCS 5/14-1 et seq. Of significant import is that this action has to occur without another’s knowledge. As long as all parties involved in the communication know and permit the recording party to record the conversation or communication, then there is no violation of the eavesdropping statute. On the other hand, if a party is not notified that he/she is being recorded, a violation of the eavesdropping statute has occurred. In addition, even with a party consenting to the recording after it has already begun, the initial recording that took place without permission or notice is a violation of the eavesdropping statute.

According to Section 14-1, an “eavesdropping device” is any device capable of being used to hear or record oral conversations or intercept, retain, or transcribe electronic communications whether such conversations or electronic communications are conducted in person, by telephone, or by any other means. This means that a cell phone is considered to be an eavesdropping device.

A “conversation” means any oral communication between 2 or more people regardless of whether one or more of the people involved in the communication intended it to be of a private nature.

“Electronic communication” means any transfer of signs, signals, writing images, sounds, data or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or part by a wire, radio, pager, computer, electromagnetic, photo electronic or photo optical system, where the sending and receiving parties intend the electronic communication to be private and the recording, or transcription of the electronic communication is accomplished by a device in a surreptitious manner contrary to the provisions of the eavesdropping statute.

Someone recording the conversation and/or communication of another without his/her permission can face both criminal and civil penalties. This is true for minors and adults. A first offense for violating the eavesdropping statute is a Class 4 Felony. A second or subsequent violation of the eavesdropping statute is a Class 3 Felony.

Should a civil case be filed in circuit court regarding the violation of the eavesdropping statute, the following are possible civil remedies to the injured party:

1. An injunction can be entered against the eavesdropper to prevent further eavesdropping;

2. The eavesdropper may have to pay actual damages; and/or

3. The eavesdropper may have to pay punitive damages if so awarded by a court or jury.

In conclusion, students who are recording another person, whether in or out or school, without that person’s knowledge and permission before the recording begins, can face harsh criminal and civil penalties.