Hidden Cameras Lead to Criminal Charges and Lawsuits in Chicago

man pointingRecently, eleven former and current employees of Aspen Dental in Crestwood filed lawsuits for civil damages arising from illegal videotaping that occurred in the office’s bathroom area. In addition to potential money damages which may follow from the pending civil cases, criminal charges for the person accused of planting these hidden cameras have been filed as well.

Illinois Prohibits Unauthorized Live Video and Recordings

When people are out in public doing public things, there is usually no expectation of privacy. After all, if a person wants to do something without others witnessing what they’re doing, they always have the option of doing it privately in their own home (or as in the case detailed above, a closed bathroom). The laws which govern Chicago and all of Illinois specify what is prohibited in section 720 ILCS 5/26-4:

  • It’s illegal for a person to knowingly transmit a live video or record a video in a tanning bed facility, locker room, bathroom, hotel bedroom or changing room, without first getting the other person’s consent
  • It’s illegal to knowingly transmit live video or video record another person without their consent in their own place of residence
  • It’s also not legal to videotape or transmit a live feed of another person in their residence even though the video or audio device is located outside of their residence and transmitting from a remote location
  • It’s illegal to transmit a live feed or videotape another person through or under their clothing in order see that person’s body or undergarments without consent
  • Even if no live feed or video is actually made, it’s still illegal to personally place (or cause to be placed) any device that is capable of performing this function in a tanning facility, restroom, locker room, hotel bedroom, or changing room without consent
  • Similarly, it’s not legal to cause such a device to be placed in such a manner to record or live stream a person in their own residence without their consent, regardless of whether any actual feed or recording is made
  • Even if a defendant is not responsible for actually placing such a device or performing the recording, it’s still illegal to knowingly distribute or disseminate such a recording to others in any manner, whether for free or for profit. This is the section of the statute often used to support charging a defendant for disseminating sex tapes or naked videos online as part of a revenge porn crime.

Exceptions That Allow Recording or Live Video Without Consent

There are some exceptions however that allow legal videotaping or live-streaming others without their express consent. These include:

  • Certain videotaping or live feed of events pursuant to a lawful criminal police investigation
  • Taping and live feeds done within correctional institutions such as jails and prisons in Illinois to be used to investigate wrongdoing or misconduct of prisoners and others committed therein
  • Videotaping or live transmission from within a locker room by a news outlet or news reporter when access to the locker room has been granted for the purpose of conducting an interview
  • Instances in which a police authority has been granted an order by a court giving express permission to conduct what is referred to as eavesdropping

Your Right to Record the Police

At one time in Chicago and across Illinois, it was considered illegal to record police without their permission. This of course was before the advent of bodycams, the Black Lives Matter movement and the general public demand for more police transparency. But in 2014, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that on First Amendment grounds, it was unconstitutional to stop people from recording on-duty police during an arrest. As such, it’s now considered legal to record police under most circumstances, but it’s still possible to be arrested for recording under some other circumstances in Chicago and elsewhere, such as:

  • Recording police without consent when they’re off the job or engaging in their private lives, just as it’s still illegal to do this to any other citizen.
  • Secretly recording police, known as “surreptitious” recording
  • Recording the police in any manner that obstructs their ability to properly effectuate an arrest or investigate any criminal, traffic or other matter. So, in other words, although you may have the absolute constitutional right to record the police, if what you’re doing is interfering with the performance of their police duties, you may be subject to arrest. Just like when the police are investigating a crime and have put up yellow tape to keep back onlookers, you have a right to be there behind the tape and watch the events. But if you push on the tape, cross the line, or do anything that interferes with their investigation, and you may find yourself under arrest.

Speak to Our Experienced Criminal Legal Team

Videotaping only came into wide public use in the last 1970s. At first, cameras and recorders were very large and very expensive, only allowing recording to a taping system physically wired to the cameras. But over time, both cameras and taping systems have gotten smaller and the prices of these machines have fallen significantly as well. With recent wireless developments such as Bluetooth, virtually anyone can now tape others at little to no cost using their smart phone or other available devices. This explosion in video accessibility has yielded both extremely positive and extremely negative repercussions, however.

Serious civil rights violations such as police beatings and shootings are now being for the first time being widely prosecuted against police due to clear, incontrovertible video evidence. But on the other hand, regular citizens are now subject to potential invasions of their privacy virtually everywhere, whether by government intrusions or other citizens secretly taping them. Whether you have been the subject of a civil rights violation by the police or charged with improper taping of others, you can contact Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC at (312) 644-0444 to arrange a free consultation 24 hours a day.

Written by Mitchell S. Sexner Last Updated : December 14, 2023