Wiretaps: Danger to Liberty or Vital Tool? : Law Enforcement Agencies Must Keep Up with Technology

By Henry J. Hyde Copyright, Scripps Howard News Service | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 5, 1996 | Go to article overview

Wiretaps: Danger to Liberty or Vital Tool? : Law Enforcement Agencies Must Keep Up with Technology


Henry J. Hyde Copyright, Scripps Howard News Service, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Nine corrupt cops working within the ranks of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department are in jail because court-ordered wiretaps helped uncover a protection racket they operated for a gang of drug dealers during the early 1990s.

Operation ill-wind lowered the boom on defense procurement consultants in the late 1980s. Court-ordered wiretaps uncovered hard evidence of bribery and fraud. The result was 64 convictions and numerous fines, including a $160 million fine against the Unisys Corp.

Last spring, the Drug Enforcement Administration concluded a year-long investigation into the Cali Cartel drug operations in the United States. More than 90 court-ordered wiretaps in dozens of locations across the United States netted invaluable information on cartel business. The operation resulted in more than 130 arrests, and seizure of more than 10,000 pounds of cocaine and $9 million in cash. More than 55 court-ordered wiretaps were executed during the late 1980s and early 1990s leading to the dismantling of 15 major drug trafficking gangs in the New York City area. This information led to the solving of more than 40 homicides, including the murder of a New York City policeman and a state parole officer. More than 167 people were convicted and $8 million in cash seized. Every day, vicious, murderous criminals use the nation's telephone systems to conduct a diabolical trade in kidnapping, extortion, organized crime, drug trafficking and foreign espionage. Since 1968, when Congress enacted a formal regime to regulate the use of wiretaps by state and federal law-enforcement agencies, numerous crimes have been thwarted or solved and hundreds of thugs and white-collar bandits have been jailed. But this very important and effective tool is now threatened by the very technological changes that make telephone communications so accessible in our fast-paced lives. Analog technology, the historical backbone of the nation's telecommunications infrastructure, is giving way to digital technology with its fiber-optic cable and highly sophisticated computer equipment. The changes have been a boon to consumers, permitting an unparalleled expansion in the variety and quality of phone services, cellular communications and data transmission. But the new technology also has the unintended consequence of freezing out law-enforcement's ability to tap a telephone. In parts of the United States, police are already unable to carry out court-ordered wiretaps because the advanced technology does not exist to do so. …

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