Illinois lawmakers, civil liberties advocates at odds over wiretap law

July 24, 2012

Jewell Washington

(WBEZ/Jewel Washington)
Gov. Pat Quinn signed House Bill 4081 into law on Tuesday. It creates an exemption in Illinois' eavesdropping statute that allows state's attorneys to give police prior approval to wiretap suspected drug criminals.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn sparked frustration among civil rights advocates by signing a new police wiretap law Tuesday.  

Illinois police currently need a court order to secretly record conversations of drug criminals, but under the new law that goes into effect Jan. 1, a state’s attorney could give that go ahead.

Quinn said the change will allow faster arrests.

“It is important that we deal, and deal strongly, with gangs, guns and drugs,” he said. “We must protect and help our law enforcement.”

Quinn had the support of many lawmakers, who said easier recording would reduce the need for witness testimony.

But Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy with the American Civil Liberties Union, wished Quinn and the legislature would have left things alone. Yohnka said judges act as a neutral third party and they can already act fast enough.

“The fact is that police officers are able to get warrants when there’s a legitimate reason to do so in a hurry,” he said.

Yohnka worries police will soon have too much power to go after anyone suspected of drug crimes.