Wiretapping has been in the news as of late due to President Donald Trump’s accusations of President Barack Obama wiretapping his phone lines during the 2016 presidential campaign. While the accusations are being argued, it brings to attention the very real criminal offense of wiretapping another’s phone line. Of course, if anyone had actually used wiretapping in an effort to change the outcome of the presidential election, serious criminal charges would possibly be given to that party. But what are the penalties for wiretapping that has nothing to do with an election? As a private citizen, wiretapping is illegal and carries a penalty of up to 12 months in jail as a Class A misdemeanor. According to Illinois statute 720 ILCS 145/0.01, it is unlawful to tap or connect a wire with the telephone of another person, company, or association that conducts business in transmitting news when the purpose of the wiretapping is to wrongfully take or use that new information.
Like wiretapping, unlawful eavesdropping is a Class A misdemeanor in Illinois. But what is eavesdropping? If you overhear something sitting on a park bench, that obviously does not constitute an illegal act. An eavesdropper is a person, including a law enforcement officer, who uses or participates in the use of an eavesdropping device. An eavesdropping device is capable of recording oral conversation, intercepting and/or transcribing electronic communication, or can simply be used to overhear a conversation. A hearing aid does not constitute as an eavesdropping device, however. In order to be charged with eavesdropping, a person must use the eavesdropping device in a surreptitious, or secretive, manner with the intent of compiling information from a private conversation. The information can be oral or electronic, and when the person has consent from all parties in that conversation, no crime has been committed. Similarly, the crime of eavesdropping has been committed when a party manufactures, sells, or assembles an eavesdropping device and has reason to believe that it will be used illegally, and if a person uses or discloses information which they have reason to believe was collected illegally through eavesdropping.