Pressure for new federal law on wiretapping
Senate lnquiry into Tapping of Telephones
The legal cloud that hangs over wiretapping by law enforcement officers, put there by ambiguous interpretations of the federal law on interception of communications, has generated pressure on Congress for new legislation to bring order out of a situation surrounded by doubt and confusion. If the lawmakers accept proposals now being pressed upon them, officials charged with the responsibility of enforcing criminal laws will be given authority to tap telephone wires when investigating serious crimes and to use the evidence thus acquired when prosecuting criminals in court.
The contention that authority of this kind in the hands of the police would deprive the citizens of an important protection afforded by the Communications Act of 1934 has prevented congressional action to revise the wiretapping provisions of that act for more than a quarter of a century. But it has come to be argued that wiretapping is so prevalent—and is so widely practiced by private persons and by the police themselves, notwithstanding the prohibitions of existing law—that a new statute setting forth in precise terms the conditions under which wires could be tapped would afford more actual protection against invasions of privacy than the citizen now enjoys.
While wiretapping is still held by many defenders of civil liberties to be abhorrent in a free society—“dirty business” in the words of Justice Holmes—support appears to be growing for the proposition that the time has come either to arm state and federal law enforcers with unquestioned wiretap authority or to outlaw wiretapping by anyone, absolutely and effectively.