Wiretapping in Law Enforcement

November 9, 1961

Report Outline
Pressure for new federal law on wiretapping
Extent of Wiretapping, Public and Private
Proposed Shifts of Policy on Wiretapping

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.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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Dec. 04, 2015  Privacy and the Internet
Oct. 25, 2013  Big Data and Privacy
Aug. 30, 2013  Government Surveillance
Jan. 25, 2013  Social Media Explosion
Sep. 17, 2010  Social Networking
Nov. 06, 2009  Online Privacy Updated
Nov. 17, 2006  Privacy in Peril
Jun. 15, 2001  Privacy Under Attack
Nov. 06, 1998  Internet Privacy
Nov. 19, 1993  Privacy in the Workplace
Apr. 17, 1992  Politicians and Privacy
Jan. 20, 1989  Your Right to Privacy
Mar. 21, 1986  Privacy in the Workplace
Oct. 18, 1974  Rights to Privacy
Apr. 05, 1967  Wiretapping and Bugging
Apr. 20, 1966  Protection of Privacy
Nov. 09, 1961  Wiretapping in Law Enforcement
Feb. 29, 1956  Surveillance of Spying
Jan. 25, 1956  Eavesdropping Controls
Mar. 14, 1949  Wire Tapping
Crime and Law Enforcement