Wire Tapping

March 14, 1949

Report Outline
Wire Tapping and the National Security
Question of Threat to Individual Rights
Protection Against Indiscriminate Wire Tapping

Wire Tapping and the National Security

Proposals to amend existing federal statutes with respect to wire tapping have been offered in Congress as part of a comprehensive administration bill to “strengthen the internal security of the United States.” When Sen. McCarran (D., Nev.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the bill Jan. 18 he said it should receive “the study and consideration of every member of the Senate as well as of the Committee on the Judiciary.” He pointed out that the wire tapping proposals in particular would need careful thought “because those weapons which we afford for national protection and defense might be turned to the destruction or impairment of individual human rights.”

The intention of the Department of Justice to seek new anti-espionage legislation at the 1949 session of Congress was announced Dec. 17 by Attorney General Clark. He observed at the same time that it would be difficult, as President Truman had said at a press conference the day before, to strengthen existing statutes against espionage and still keep within the Bill of Rights.

Proposals for New Legislation on Wire Tapping

The Supreme Court has held that to tap communication lines is not an invasion of the personal rights guaranteed by the federal Constitution. But wire tapping is at present controlled federally by a provision in the Communications Act of 1934 which says that “no person, not being authorized by the sender, shall intercept any communication and divulge or publish the existence, contents, substance, …or meaning of such intercepted communication to any person.” The Supreme Court held in 1937 that the prohibition of the Communications Act applies to agents of the federal government as well as to private citizens, and that information obtained by wire tapping cannot be used as evidence in federal court proceedings.

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Mar. 14, 1949  Wire Tapping
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