Illinois House approves warrantless wiretapping bill

Illinois House approves warrantless wiretapping bill

A measure passed by the Illinois House of Representatives would extend the law that permits state’s attorneys to authorize wiretaps without a court-issued warrant.

The Illinois House of Representatives approved a measure Oct. 25 to extend for two years the ability of state’s attorneys to authorize wiretaps without judicial warrants. The bill passed 97-12, and five representatives voted “present.”

Illinois law generally prohibits using an eavesdropping device to record or transmit a private conversation without the consent of all the parties involved. Traditionally, law enforcement has needed a court order to use a wiretap to listen in on a suspect’s conversation. The bill passed by the House continues for two years a law that allows law enforcement to bypass the courts in initiating a wiretap of individuals suspected of certain crimes.

House Bill 185 extends to Jan. 1, 2020, from Jan. 1, 2018, a law that allows a state’s attorney to authorize law enforcement to “record[ ] or listen[ ] with the aid of an eavesdropping device … a conversation” involving a person under investigation for “a qualified offense.” “Qualified offenses” may include certain drug-related offenses, as well as felonies such as first-degree murder and criminal sexual assault.

The state’s attorney for the county in which the conversation is expected to take place may grant approval if law enforcement submits a wiretap request and gives the state’s attorney reasonable cause to believe that an “inculpatory” conversation concerning a “qualified offense” will occur with a specified individual or individuals within a designated period of time. The approved wiretap may not continue for longer than 24 consecutive hours. A written record of the wiretap must be submitted to the circuit clerk of the court with jurisdiction over the matter within one business day of the expiration of the wiretap authorization.

State Rep. Elgie Sims Jr., D-Chicago, who served as the primary sponsor of HB 185, said information obtained through a wiretap authorized by a state’s attorney would still have to be approved by a judge before being used in a criminal investigation, according to the Illinois News Network. Sims said this warrantless wiretap authority has been primarily used to investigate violent crimes.

Some lawmakers expressed concern about the lack of judicial supervision over the wiretap approval process. They noted the American Civil Liberties Union opposes the bill.

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