In the past six years, what can best be described as a civil liberties revolt has taken place in America over wire tapping and electronic eavesdropping. Because this exploded primarily at the state level and has not—as yet—produced Congressional action, too few people are aware of the scope of the reforms and their fundamental significance for the right to privacy in this country. But not all uprisings are fought in the streets with cobblestones or grenades, and the cold statistics on wire tapping tell a revolutionary story. Since 1953, eighteen states have had legislative debates over wire tapping control laws. Of these, four have joined New York in placing official wire tapping under court-supervised warrant procedures and outlawing private interceptions. Two states have banned all wire tapping, whether done by private detectives or the state police. Five states have gone beyond telephone eavesdropping and enacted controls on all types of electronic monitoring—by radio, microphone, or electric beam. Three states have had judicial rulings which declared wire tapping to be illegal under existing laws and have excluded wire-tap evidence from state trials. One state (Texas) passed a new law excluding wiretap evidence from state trials.
What precipitated this flurry of wire-tap legislation? More important, how much actual impact is the new legislation having?
By the 1950’s, privacy from telephone tappers and microphone planters had been pressed into a desperate situation. Technologically, a vast breakthrough had occurred in eavesdropping techniques: parabolic microphones were constructed which could beam in on conversations from hundreds of yards away; resonator radio transmitters the size of match boxes could be planted under a table or bed to send conversations to receiving sets a mile away; telephone tap connections no longer had to be made by crude splicing of wires but were accomplished by refined induction coil devices (and even by metallic conductor paints applied close to the telephone connection and matched to the wall color to defy detection); tape recorders small enough to fit into a coat pocket were invented, as were “television eyes” small enough to be hidden in a heating duct or light fixture, and tiny automatic cameras able to photograph almost in the dark with infra-ray film.
If these were “Buck Rogers” developments, technically possible but still on the drawing boards, there would have been little cause for immediate alarm. But in the early 1950’s, the American public discovered that every one of the devices just described was already in use, and that they were spreading across the nation with cancerous speed. In February of 1955, the news broke in New York about a central wire-tap station set up by private detectives and able to monitor over 100,000 lines in the mid-Manhattan area. In the same year, the District Attorney of Philadelphia released to the press unedited transcripts of telephone taps he had made on the lines of Teamster organizers who, he alleged, were out to raid the local of another union. In 1954, an investment broker and a private detective in Chicago were apprehended in the tapping of the line of a company whose purchase the broker Was considering. Also in Chicago in 1954, a double wire tapping incident was uncovered: a labor racketeer had tapped the phones of witnesses who were complaining about him to a federal grand jury while the FBI was allegedly tapping the wire tapper’s phones. Taps by Maryland police in bookmaking cases led the Baltimore Sun to attack the “wide-open, indiscriminate use of wire tapping” in that state. In Las Vegas, Nevada, hidden microphones were installed by a private investigator at the direction of a newspaper editor who wanted to secure proof that prominent gamblers and state officials were in connivance, and in the wake of this exposure, it was proved that Nevada’s leading brothels made a practice of wiring their rooms to collect useful facts about clients. In New Jersey, a state legislative committee found local prosecutors and state troopers actively tapping; private eyes in the Garden State were also doing a thriving business in the usual divorce and business cases. In California, eavesdropping practices by police and private detectives included microphone installations which were kept for months on end in the bedrooms of suspects, the bugging of hotel rooms and tapping of public phones, and the secret filming of movie stars at play in their homes. These causes célèbres made the front pages of newspapers not just in the states concerned but across the country, and were paralleled by wire tapping disclosures in Detroit, Michigan; Kansas City, Missouri; Portland, Oregon, and many other communities. The public learned that wire tapping and microphoning were not confined to the “eavesdropping capitals” of New York and Washington, D. C., but were nationwide.
In terms of law, a dangerous impasse had been reached in the early 1950’s which left citizens shorn of any effective legal protection. Since 1928, when the U. S. Supreme Court held that wire tapping was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment (prohibiting unreasonable search and seizure), there had been no constitutional limit on wire tapping. To be sure, some states had laws which said that wire tapping was forbidden, but the statutes dated mainly from the 1920’s, were often vaguely worded, and proved to be ineffective in covering modern wire-tap techniques or law enforcement interceptions.
Down to 1937 attempts either to outlaw or control wire tapping failed to pass in Congress, and the Supreme Court finally stepped into the vacuum. In 1937, the Court interpreted Section 605 of the Federal Communications Act of 1934 as forbidding federal officers (and any other “persons”) to intercept telephone calls and use the evidence in federal trials. However, Section 605, which had originally been drafted in 1924 to deal with radio messages, and had never been written by Congress with telephone tapping in mind, actually read “intercept . . . and divulge.” Given this ambiguity, the FBI and a succession of Attorneys General maintained that tapping itself was legal and that the law only forbade using the evidence in court. Federal officers consequently went on tapping at their own discretion; whenever they tried to use the evidence in federal trials or whenever taps provided the key lead in an investigation, the federal courts threw the evidence out and ordered new trials. At the same time, the Department of Justice, which itself was authorizing wire-taps, had after 1940 refused on grounds of “good conscience” to enforce Section 605 by prosecuting state police or even private tappers.
By 1955, concern over the problem had gone far beyond professional civil libertarians and the editors of liberal weeklies. Two national television networks in 1955 engaged in a race to put out the first drama condemning telephone snoopers. Reverend Billy Graham’s organization produced a movie called Wiretapper, showing the religious conversion of a repentant sinner whose pre-salvation occupation had been that of a “professional earphones man.” The mass media featured exposés of wire-tap scandals, and even Daddy Warbucks in the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” learned to his anger that agents of “The Syndicate” were tapping his calls.
Sensitive to this widespread public concern, both Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress promised remedial legislation. When one professional wire tapper (temporarily reformed) demonstrated at Congressional hearings how he could sit in a Congressman’s outer office reading a magazine while he was secretly recording telephone calls made from the inner office, the newspapers reported that the committee members were visibly shaken. Prospects for Congressional action seemed high. Yet no law was passed on wire tapping in 1955, and none has been passed since. Despite universal dismay at the existing situation (even federal law enforcement officers wanted legislation so that they could use wire-tap evidence in courts in cases such as that of Judith Coplon), action was prevented by a split in Congress among those opposing all wire tapping, those favoring a court-order law permitting some official interceptions, and those who were insisting upon self-administered controls by the Justice Department.
But the impetus built up between 1953 and 1955, instead of evaporating altogether, found its way into the states. With local bar associations and American Civil Liberties Union chapters as their principal sponsors (and aided in some instances by the political influence of that well-known libertarian fraternity, the nation’s bookmakers), new wire-tap reform laws were passed in state after state. These reflect an important shift in the general public attitude toward the appropriate balance to be struck between privacy and law enforcement.
Two basic solutions to the wire tapping problem have been developed in the state legislation. In New York, Oregon, Maryland, Nevada, and Massachusetts, law enforcement officers are permitted to tap telephones if they can present evidence before a state judge showing reasonable cause to believe that a crime (limited to certain major crimes in some of the laws) has been or is about to be committed, and that telephone interceptions are essential to the processing of the case. The telephone to be tapped must be identified and a short specific time period is allotted for the monitoring. Private persons are clearly barred from tapping, with stiff penalties provided, and any wire-tap evidence obtained by police in violation of the statute is excluded from the courts.
The other technique adopted has been to ban tapping entirely. Illinois and Pennsylvania did this in 1957 by carefully-drawn legislation, and with the state legislators and governors fully aware that the laws denied wire-tap powers to the police. In two other states, Florida and California, the courts have invoked existing law and constitutional provisions to preclude all taps and to bar wire-tap evidence. The Florida District Court of Appeals declared in a 1959 case that it was “so deeply concerned with the potential dangers of wire tapping to our American way of life, to our sacred liberties and our democratic society, and to our concept of fair play,” that it could not avoid declaring that police taps violated the Florida constitutional guarantees against self-incrimination and unreasonable searches and seizures. In New Jersey, the state Supreme Court in a 1956 case noted that a 1930 statute, which had rusted unused for twenty-six years and which forbade interception of telephone calls, remained the law of the state even for the police.
The same two patterns have been used in anti-microphoning laws. Maryland, Nevada, Massachusetts, and New York permit police recording of room, auto, or street conversations under court order. Illinois forbids it entirely. A California court gave new life to a 1940 anti-dictograph law and to the state’s constitutional guarantee of privacy when it held in 1957 that a police chief could be enjoined from using taxpayers’ money to purchase electronic eavesdropping equipment.
How well the court-order and total-ban laws have worked is, as might be imagined, a matter of debate—though private tapping has without question been pushed back from the high tide of the early 1950’s. A good many of the nation’s leading private tappers have been tried and convicted. John Broady, the top New York entrepreneur, is currently in prison on a two-to-four-year sentence and was disbarred as an attorney. Two other wire-tap cases have been prosecuted in New York, and similar action has taken place in Los Angeles, Portland, Chicago, and other cities. Along with this, the Department of Justice has begun enforcing Section 605 of the Federal Communications Act against private interceptors. Since 1954, there have been seven federal prosecutions (six convictions, James Hoffa acquitted) geographically scattered through New York, Ohio, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Oregon.
Not that private tappers have vanished entirely. In California, for example, under an excellent 1956 law which requires telephone companies to report annually any wire taps it finds on its lines, the General Telephone Company announced the discovery of twenty-eight taps in one year, and this was only one of several telephone systems in the state. Undoubtedly, private tapping continues in the major cities where marital cases, business and labor espionage, political competition, and criminal rivalries provide fat fees for those willing to take a chance. But the old, virtually open flaunting of private wire tapping (including ads in the yellow pages of the telephone directory offering “telephone monitoring services” and “electronic telephone monitoring” by private detectives) is passing away. Moreover, the former camaraderie between the police and private-eye wire tapping experts in many cities has been shattered by the new climate of public opinion. In California, the police used to hire private eavesdroppers to do official jobs in return for protecting the private eyes in their pursuits; this practice is no longer as common as it once was.
One alarming development at the state level as to private tapping and microphoning should be noted. In a badly reasoned recent case, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the right of a subscriber to have his own telephone tapped to protect his property. As a result of this case, involving a company which had been suffering thefts by employees, the long overdue indictment against wire-tap professional Bernard Spin-del had to be dismissed, since Spindel usually eavesdrops in business and personal cases where the telephone subscriber or employer gives permission. How dangerous this reasoning is becomes clear when we consider it in the context of the growing tendency of business corporations to monitor the calls of their employees, place microphones in factory rest rooms to see who is loafing, and even to include concealed listening apparatus in the suites of executives so that top management can learn how proposals and people were regarded after the committee meeting broke up. Some unions have also succumbed to the temptation of omniscience, as in James Hoffa’s employment of Spindel to wire his entire headquarters in Detroit. Department stores have been listening in on sales situations “to test their employees’ courtesy,” and automobile showrooms have been bugging their offices so that they can learn just how much the buyer is willing to pay when the salesman discreetly excuses himself and the husband and wife think they are alone in the room. It seems clear that the concept of property rights should not be inflated to give the owner of a business the right to violate the confidences of his employees or his customers in this way. Theft is the concern of the police, and what goes on in the washroom, the sales counter, or the vice president’s office should not be made the legal property of intrusive owners.
The situation as to law enforcement activities is more complex, varied, and controversial than private wire tapping. No law enforcement officers have yet been prosecuted under the total-ban statutes. The Department of Justice still declines to prosecute official wire tappers under Section 605, even when state officials make public disclosure of wire-tap records for publicity purposes and not in trials, as happened in Philadelphia in 1955. It is highly likely that the Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles police (all in total-ban jurisdictions) still tap when they feel it essential to a major case. According to informed sources in Chicago, in fact, the reason that the Chicago police never raised an outcry against the campaign to ban wire tapping was that they intended to go on tapping undercover in order to secure leads to admissible evidence. For all that, however, it is clear that official tapping has declined since the ban, and that the inability to use wire-tap evidence in court has considerably cut down the eagerness of police to “slap a tap on.”
Since tapping under total-ban laws is undercover, the only data that can be gathered are illustrations of particular violations. In court-order states, more data is available since records of warrant applications are kept, wire-tap evidence is presented in court, and police are willing to talk a bit about their activities. New York, whose experience with court-order laws is longest, may serve as an example here. In 1954, 1,135 court orders were obtained by all the law enforcement agencies in the State of New York, with a population of almost 15 million. Of these, 691 came from New York City, where there were 3,750,000 telephones in use for a population of nearly 9 million. The New York City Police Department’s taps covered 901 lines in 1953 (one warrant may cover more than a single telephone); the wire-tap surveillance produced 477 arrests, the great bulk of them in what were termed “morals” cases—mainly prostitution and gambling.
For the New York County District Attorney’s Office, the yearly average between 1942 and 1954 had been 70 wire-taps, which amounted to about 3 wire-tap orders for each 1,000 criminal cases disposed of by the Office. The District Attorney’s records show that in 1951, 20 investigations required wire tapping, 81 orders were secured from the courts, 57 arrests resulted, and 55 convictions were obtained. In the twelve-year period under discussion, two-thirds of all New York County District Attorney wire-tap investigations (a total of 336) fell into the categories of larceny and allied frauds, extortion and blackmail, organized gambling, and bribery and official corruption. As for the most serious crimes, there had been 17 homicide cases, 13 narcotics cases, and 12 robbery cases.
More recent figures, supplied to this writer by District Attorney Edward S. Silver, show that in Kings County (Brooklyn), 41 orders were obtained in 1959, 36 in 1958, 39 in 1957, 29 in 1956, and 58 in 1955, or a yearly average of 41 for the past five-year period. These were for the District Attorney’s Office and did not cover police department wire-tap orders in Brooklyn.
If past experience is a guide, New York policemen will continue not to “bother” the courts for a warrant in every wire-tap instance, Nevada police will go on tapping and “bugging” in vice and fraud cases even though such cases are not covered by the court-order statute, and Boston police will continue their active wire tapping even if it occasionally violates the new court-order provisions. One reason for these activities is the belief of many police forces (not always unwarranted) that local judges may leak news of projected taps to local suspects, particularly in cases involving criminal-political tie-ups. However, under the new and tightly-drawn laws, prosecutions of police for such conduct have begun already. In New York, the disclosure in 1959 of unauthorized “personal” police tapping in Brooklyn resulted in the indictment of a Deputy Inspector and two plainclothesmen. The plainclothesmen pleaded guilty; the Inspector’s trial ended in a hung jury, but he was suspended from the police force pending a departmental trial for his wire tapping activities. With courts being more circumspect in their granting of warrant applications in New York, with top police officials cracking down on the kind of “laissez faire tapping” that ambitious individual policemen and some graft-seeking officers did in the early 1950’s, and with a public opinion no longer so tolerant of unauthorized taps, I would suggest that the New York system today is operating fairly close to the letter of the law.
One difficulty in evaluating both total-ban and court-order wire tapping systems is that the police, in order to side-step telephone tapping regulations, can switch to wholesale use of hidden microphones in hotel rooms, bars, bedrooms, brothels, and autos. After Maryland enacted a telephone tapping court-order act, it was disclosed that Baltimore police were switching to Miniphon recorders; the Baltimore City Council in 1954 and the State of Maryland in 1959 then passed an act requiring warrants for this kind of eavesdropping also. In New York as well, electronic eavesdropping was recently added to the techniques requiring a warrant, though the new law had to be softened because both Governors Harriman and Rockefeller vetoed stronger proposals.
On balance, I think much the same can be said for the developing impact of new wire tapping and microphoning laws upon state officials as was noted above about private eavesdroppers: the situation is much improved but far from resolved. Men sworn to uphold the law (even one they consider unwise)will generally obey if the community clearly demonstrates that it stands behind the law. Before 1953, as surveys unequivocally showed, community sentiment ran in favor of official taps at official discretion, not against them. Today, in the states which have enacted controls and in many others where legislation is under consideration, the trend of community sentiment is in the other direction. The most potent method of dealing with recalcitrant police officials is surveillance by special legislative committees (like the Forbes Committee in New Jersey, the Savarese Committee in New York, and the Regan Committee in California) which have been active since 1953 and which possess the necessary political power to take on law enforcement officials who disregard their legal limitations. Other states would do well to follow the example of New York in making these committees permanent or else develop a practice of having a subcommittee of the state’s judiciary committees in the legislature police this area. Grand jury probes such as the 1959 Kings County investigation of illegal tapping by Brooklyn police are also essential to effective supervision. The basic point to recognize, it seems to me, is that there can be no such thing as a “self-executing” wire tapping statute, and little can be accomplished simply by raising the penalties for violation or spelling out in still greater detail a set of regulations for lawful tapping. The key to success is constant supervision and enforcement—by police superiors, district attorneys, bar associations, newspaper reporters, governors, civil liberties organizations, and other opinion-forming elites.
One further reform I would urge is that all eavesdropping powers be taken out of the hands of police departments and lodged entirely in the hands of the District Attorneys’ offices in the states. The record of the District Attorneys’ offices has been far superior to that of the police and this shift in jurisdiction would, by itself, decrease eavesdropping malpractice.
Another avenue for protection of privacy should be described. Common law and statutory remedies for persons who are the victims of eavesdroppers have begun to take solid form as a result of the new atmosphere of the 1950’s. For example, the West Virginia Supreme Court held in 1958 that a woman could recover damages for the action of her landlord in installing a listening device in her apartment. The court brushed aside the landlord’s defense that he did this to see whether the tenants were respectable, as well as his arguments that he did not repeat the overheard conversations to anyone and that the tenant could not show any special damages resulting from the eavesdropping. It was enough to make out a case for damages, the court held, simply that her “inviolate” right of privacy was invaded. “To hold otherwise under modern means of communication, hearing devices, photography and other technological advances,” the opinion concluded, “would effectively deny valuable rights and freedoms to the individual.” Many more states can be expected to reach a similar result under existing recognitions of an actionable right of privacy, and damage suits against business, union, or social eavesdroppers would provide a deterrent in that particularly sensitive area—the pocketbook. In addition, a number of the new state statutes create a private right of action for a victim against both police officers and private parties who eavesdrop illegally. In Pennsylvania, the person whose conversations are tapped is given a right to sue the wire tapper and any user of the recordings for “treble damages,” which are set by law at a minimum of $100 plus attorney’s fees. Illinois provides a comparable action against the eavesdropper, his employer or superior, and any landlord or building operator who co-operates in the enterprise. It is no defense under any of these statutes that the eavesdropper’s property rights were involved or that police officials were in pursuit of criminal activity.
What still remains to be done, however, is to clean up the Augean stables at the national level. Congress must drop its Hamlet-like indecisiveness and enact a tightly-guarded court-order system to control FBI wire tapping. This would not only be desirable in itself but would also free the Supreme Court from the embarrassment of trying to make coherent law out of an inept 1934 statute. At the same time, it would give the Department of Justice a chance to drop its present casuistic habit and play an honorable role once more as a law enforcement agency, including the supervision of state police activities where no state controls have been enacted.
Events also indicate that Congress must take electronic eavesdropping into account when it acts. The microphoning employed by Congressional committee investigators in the celebrated Goldfine episode is only one example of the widespread use of microphones, sound equipment, and radio transmitters by the FBI, military investigators, narcotics agents, Congressional investigators, and other federal officers. The best course would be for Congress to put the use of any sound equipment by federal officers under court-order safeguards. Where state and private electronic eavesdropping is concerned, the problem is more complicated. Simple eavesdropping by ear or by sound-amplifying device, when done by state officials or private persons, is probably beyond Congressional jurisdiction and should be. However, under its primary authority over radio waves, Congress could outlaw all private eavesdropping by radio transmitter and permit state police to use radio equipment only when a state statute expressly authorizes it under warrant safeguards. Such a law would get at the most common and the most efficient means of electronic eavesdropping now in use.
How much chance is there that Congress will take action along these lines—or any other lines? What with civil rights legislation currently pre-empting Senate attention and a presidential year to make consideration of tricky issues less attractive in Congress than usual, action may not be taken at this session. For the future, one distinct possibility is that Congress will be goaded into action by new Supreme Court rulings. The Court has already hinted in a 1957 case, Benanti v. U. S., that state statutes authorizing wire tapping may not be valid in light of the language in the Federal Communications Act forbidding any “person” to intercept and divulge telephone communications. In February of this year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit temporarily stayed the use of wire-tap evidence in a New York state trial of four persons charged with conspiring to blind a woman. In the opinion, Judge Harold Medina noted that the division between federal and state jurisdictions did not require the federal courts “to sit idly by and countenance or acquiesce in persistent and repeated violations of federal law.” Following this ruling, Manhattan General Sessions Judge Irwin Davidson announced that he would refuse to issue any further wire-tap orders requested by District Attorney Frank Hogan’s office. Judge Davidson said in a press conference that he agreed wire tapping was an effective tool for criminal detection, but that it was “an illegal tool” under federal court decisions and “Judges should not be parties to authorizing an . . . illegal action.” It remains to be seen which way the Court of Appeals will rule on the merits of the defendants’ motion to enjoin the use of wire-taps in state trials, but in all likelihood it is only a matter of time before a number of federal Courts of Appeals apply the Benanti language and hold state wire-tap authorization laws to be in conflict with Section 605. If this position is upheld by the Supreme Court—and I think it will be if Congress does not act in the meantime—it would produce the kind of pressure upon Congress which could not be resisted. Already, national associations of state law enforcement officers have called for Congressional action to legalize state systems for wire tapping, and the February Court of Appeals ruling prompted New York District Attorneys and police representatives to initiate a campaign for Congressional approval.
Even without a Supreme Court ruling to spring the trigger, a new administration might decide to clarify the existing situation. If the same groups which pushed wire-tap reform laws in the states were to unite behind a national campaign and were to agree to court-order provisions for federal law officers, such provisions could be enacted. The spearhead within Congress could well be the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, which has held a series of revealing and useful hearings on wire tapping in the past two years, under the skillful direction of its chief counsel, Charles Slay-man, Jr., and its chairman, Senator Thomas Hennings of Missouri.
One of the great issues of the American Revolution and one of the greatest achievements of American law was the security of the citizen from unreasonable search. But history and technology have a way of rendering obsolete what may have been a brilliant solution for the decade before last, and this is exactly what has taken place in the area of constitutional privacy. When a man’s home was truly his castle, and eavesdropping meant only the ear at the open window or the peek through the transom, the old formula was meaningful. Now, what the Founding Fathers assumed to be physically immune—the private conversation within the castle—must be given new legal protection if it is not to be seized by marauding eavesdroppers at their will.
On a theoretical plane, there are two alternatives for those who believe that the security of conversation needs repair. One approach would be to disregard the distinction between written and oral expression, put aside the gravity of the suspected crime as a dividing line, and focus instead upon protecting the constitutional castle once again. Under this approach, any and all conversations within the home would be totally immune from private or police eavesdropping; conversations projected outside the home, whether by telephone, or in talks on the street or in public places, would be subject to police surveillance under appropriate warrant safeguards. Some would make the telephone lines a constitutionally or legislatively protected means of communication by itself. To those chilled by the vision of George Orwell’s telescreen in the home, the sanctity of the fireplace and the bedroom outweighs the danger of hatching conspiracies in a mortgaged shelter, or of using the telephone as a weapon of crime.
The other alternative, and the one I find more persuasive, is to reaffirm the original intent of the Fourth Amendment. Not all searches and seizures were outlawed, we must recall, but only “unreasonable” ones. Reasonableness was insured by requiring officers to show a need to intrude because of concrete criminal activity and limiting the search to the smallest possible area under the circumstances. The police have always been empowered to read letters addressed to anyone and from anyone in files which are seized under warrant. Thus, it is not outside traditional justice for the conversations of those who communicate with a person reasonably suspected of criminal activity to be subject to a search—though the search must be limited in duration, in the number of officials permitted to examine overheard conversations, and in the use made of the disclosures. To accept the argument that conversations of innocent persons might be overheard as reason for immunizing all telephone or room conversations from authorized search is to create an island of absolute privacy which is at variance with the American tradition, not in keeping with it. And, not the least important argument for the court-order solution is that it has the best chance of adoption and successful enforcement, since the adjustment it makes between the very real needs of criminal investigation and the privacy of conversation is one which police officers could be brought to observe. Those who regard this reasoning as demeaning might do well to remember that if they press too far in taking important techniques from the police in a nation which has a very low tolerance for unresolved major crimes and a long record of approving strong police measures, the anti-eavesdropping tide might well turn and public opinion swing back to unsupervised use by law enforcers. 1
Nations with every bit as much concern for civil liberties as ours do not deal with wire tapping by total bans. The national police in Great Britain and both federal and provincial police in Canada regularly employ eavesdropping. While there has been a wholesome protest lately about some uses of wire-tap evidence (as in the giving of transcripts to professional societies for disbarment proceedings), majority sentiment in these nations would appear to support proper governmental usage.
Whichever approach emerges from the current debate as the dominant public reaction, the most satisfying aspect of the wire tapping revolt of the 50’s is the proof that Americans value their constitutional privacy too highly to let it ebb away before an advancing technology or the forays of official and unofficial intruders. This is a promising start to what must be the next step—a full-scale federal clean-up in the 1960’s and extension of state control laws to fifty jurisdictions. When this is accomplished, the tools for protecting privacy in the electronic era will be at hand.
1 It is important not to confuse arguments against wire tapping with arguments against police graft. No one familiar with wire tapping practices would deny that there are policemen who use wire-taps to get the proof with which to shake down bookmakers and prostitutes or to check to make sure that “co-operating” police are receiving their “fair share” of the payment for protected illegal activities. But this collusion would not change even if every wire tapper in America ceased tomorrow. It seems to me to make no more sense to use graft as an argument against all wire tapping than to say that police should be forbidden to follow suspects or should be barred from examining business records because some police have used the evidence so obtained for blackmail purposes.