Wiretaps Essays, Book Reports, Term Papers

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wiretaps INTRODUCTION Imagine you're talking on your telephone. It's something that everyone takes for granted. Now imagine that the police are listening to every phone conversation that you make. Does that scare you? I know that it scares me. Wiretaps are an issue that effects every person in this country. That's because no matter how much we don't like to admit it, we need depend on telephone services more and more as time passes. The issue of telephone privacy becomes bigger and bigger every day as our telephone technology becomes more advanced. Wire taps are devices that are being used more often by law enforcement agencies to capture criminals, but there does come time when the actions of law enforcement agencies aren't only protecting the public, they are overstepping their boundaries and intruding into people's private lives. This article is going to help you understand what wiretaps are and how they can effect you. It discusses the laws involved with wiretapping and how these laws can effect the privacy of the people who are under surveillance. It also discusses the problems that legislation for wiretaps poses to the phone companies. The costs and effectiveness of wiretaps are also issues to be discussed in this article. I feel that law enforcement agencies have indeed overstepped their boundaries and delved into the private lives of America's citizens, and that new legislation could even aid to the problem and make it even bigger than it already is. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE Law Issues In the technological world that we live in today, there is no question that wiretaps are a necessary tool for law enforcement officers in capturing criminals of the twenty-first century. Today, law enforcement officials are trying to keep up with new advances in the phone service industry. In fact, the director of the FBI, Louis Freeh has testified in hearings for passing new bills, "that court authorized electronic surveillance is a critical law enforcement and public safety tool" (Edwards and Boucher). As everyone knows, there have been many changes in phone services in the past few years, and there will be many to come in the future. These are phone services that criminals utilize to help them organize criminal tasks. According to Don Edwards, former representative of California and Rick Boucher, Virginia Representative, there are a wide variety of services that law enforcement officials want to monitor to use against criminals. These include things such as cellular phones, personal communication networks, the newer generation of cordless phones, wireless modems, wireless local area networks, and electronic mail and messaging. The government has made a statement concerning their goals for such electronic monitoring. Government officials said that they want the ability to intercept communications involving advanced technologies such as digital or wireless transmission modes, or features and services such as call forwarding, speed dialing, and conference calling, while protecting the privacy of communications and without impeding the introduction of new technologies, features, and services (Edwards and Boucher). A committee made up the General Accounting office, the FBI, and the telecommunications industry has all reached a conclusion about a need for wiretaps in law enforcement. What's more, Chris Stamper, writer for ABCNews.com says that supporters of such laws maintain that such a change is necessary to keep up with exploding technology. These wiretap supporters said that there is sufficient evidence justifying legislative action that new and emerging telecommunications technologies pose problems for law enforcement (Edwards and Boucher). Chris Stamper says that supporters of such bills say this will help the cops keep up with cell-phone wielding crooks. However, critics contend that it opens up the door forever more invasions of privacy. Privacy Issues There are at least two sides to every controversy, and the issue of wiretaps definitely brings more than two sides to mind. However, the two main arguments that have to do with wiretaps have to do with protection and privacy. The privacy issue has been escalating more and more in the past few years. "The government has been asking for more wiretapping authority than it ever has before," explained Shari Steele, director of legal services for the EEF ("electronic privacy"). Steele states, "Just as more of our communications are becoming digital, law enforcement is getting even greater access. Whatever privacy balance we may have achieved in the past is completely decimated due to the interpretation of new legislation." Wiretaps have been used in the past to catch criminals, but now the government is pushing for legislation to be able to tap any phone that they think is being used in criminal activity. They call this method a roving wiretap. According to Chris Stamper, Greg Nojeim, member of the American Civil Liberty Union council, argues that since roving wiretaps will be easier to obtain, citizens' Fourth Amendment rights protecting against illegal searches will erode. "We are now at a historic crossroad," says Barry Steinhardt, Associate Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, "we can use emerging technologies to protect our personal privacy, or we can succumb to scare tactics and to exaggerated claims about the law enforcement value of electronic surveillance and give up our cherished rights, perhaps - forever ("Groups")." Wiretap issues have posed a threat to privacy since 1968 due to technological advances. Congress even made a statement about privacy back then. According to the 1968 report, "the tremendous scientific and technological developments that have taken place in the last century have made it possible for widespread use and abuse of electronic surveillance techniques. As a result of these developments, privacy of communication is seriously jeopardized by the techniques of surveillance ("Groups")." Since there was so much controversy about the subject in 1968, you can only imagine the concern that people have about their privacy today. One huge privacy issue is based in the tracking of cell phones. Today's surveillance technology now allows the tracking of cell-phone locations when the phones are turned on. Will Rodger, writer for Interactive Week, says that the Telephone Industry Association has rejected FBI proposals, which would give them access to the location information gleaned form cellular phone calls. Rodger also says that the tracking information gathered from cellular phones would turn the phones into "homing beacons" whenever they are turned on and that gathering such information while calls were not taking place would overstep the law's intent. Leslie Hagin, legislative director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, echoes the sentiments of many criminal defense attorneys and civil libertarians who feel that the expansion of powers is an invitation to abuse: "It's not a power the government needs"(Stamper). There is much legislation being proposed that is requiring stricter court orders to obtain certain wiretaps. Conversely, Gregory Nicolaysen, founder of the Association of Federal Defense Attorneys, complains that too many judges rubber-stamp wiretapping requests and that the new laws will only make the situation worse: "The assumption is that those who are being wiretapped are criminals anyway" (Stamper). The courts have denied only 28 applications for wiretaps since they became legal in 1968 (Stamper). Right now, the government can obtain transaction logs containing a person's entire on-line profile just getting a subpoena from an investigator (Edwards and Boucher). For the people who use online services more and more, this data reveals a great deal about their private lives, and all of it can be collected form one place (Edwards and Boucher). The FBI can also tap into private network systems according to Edwards and Boucher; this gives them access to things such as AOL accounts and even ATM's. All in all, David L. Sobel the Electronic Protection Information Center's General Counsel says, "The FBI is seeking surveillance capabilities that far exceed the powers law enforcement has had in the past and is entitled to under the law. It is disappointing that the Federal Communications Council resolved this issue in favor of police powers and against privacy" (Edwards and Boucher). If the FBI has it's way, the only communications medium invulnerable to government snooping will consist of two soup cans and some string - and even then, I'd be careful," said Barry Steinhardt ("Electronic Privacy"). Telephone Companies Cooperation The cooperation of the telephone companies plays an essential role in the laws that have to do with wiretapping. The telephone industry has always worked with the law enforcement agencies in the past. However, with the new services being offered and the amount of companies today, a company-by-company approach is not likely to be very successful (Edwards and Boucher). One main concern of the government

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