Monday, February 1, 2010

Wiretapping and eavesdropping in the 20th century

In class today, we talked about some of the history of wiretapping and eavesdropping in the US between the Olmstead decision in 1928 and the FISA law in 1978.

Here is an interesting memo from the US Senate summarizing much of what we talked about today.

There is also a good summary at this web-site for a course at University of North Carolina Law School.

I thought that it would be helpful to organize what we talked about in class and link to some websites that provide additional information on these topics.

Olmstead v. US (1928)
This was the case in which Justice Louis Brandeis wrote his dissenting opinion on the "right to be let alone."

Federal Communications Act of 1934
This is the act that made it illegal to intercept and divulge wire communications. There was no consideration of wireless communications or bugging, because the technology for these wasn't available yet.

Nardone v. US (1939)
Determined that wiretaps by federal agents were illegal under the FCA of 1934.

Silverman v. US (1961)
Decided that a listening device that invades the structure of a building is a violation of the 4th amendment.

Katz v. US (1967)
Determined that all wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping violate the 4th amendment.

This last decision resulted in the Congress passing the

Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Street Act of 1968

This law made it legal for law enforcement agents to eavesdrop and/or wiretap provided that these activities had been ok'd by the court.

Lawrence Plamondon case of 1972
In this case, it was determined that federal agents had used wiretaps without warrants.

Watergate Scandal
A break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C. turned out to have been a plan to plant a bug in the office of the Chairman of the DNC. The break-in was directed by the Committee to Re-Elect the President, and consequently, by President Nixon himself. Nixon resigned two years later, in August of 1974.

This led to the
Church Committee
A Senate Committee chaired by Senator Frank Church of Idaho. The final report of the Church Committee is here. (This document is about 45 pages of text with 25 pages of footnotes.)

The Church Committee recommended that Congress pass another statute dealing with wiretapping in relation to national security. This law is known as the

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.
This act was established to control and delineate eavesdropping and wiretapping activities by law enforcement in the interests of national security.

We'll pick this history up again in a few weeks and examine the period from 1978-2008.

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