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Wiretapping is the act of intercepting telephone or other communications by a third party. In many cases, neither party to the communication is aware that a third party is monitoring it. In 1967 the United States Supreme Court held that wiretapping (or “intercepting communications”) requires a warrant in Katz v. United States.[1] In 1968, Congress enacted a procedure for granting wiretap warrants for criminal investigations.[2] In 1978, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) created a special secret court for issuing wiretap warrants in national security cases.[3] The Patriot Act of 2001 expanded the use of "wiretaps" beyond foreign intelligence agencies to individuals and non-governmental bodies such as weapons smugglers, terrorist organizations and drug cartels.

The term "wiretap" originally referred to physically splicing hard wires, yet remains a legal term redefined for electronic surveillance of texting, voice, and email through search engine capabilities.

Wiretapping in the US

As a general rule, wiretapping is illegal under the Fourth Amendment unless it is authorized by a warrant. A law enforcement agency must convince a judge or magistrate that there is probable cause to justify the warrant. In 1994, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), established distinctions between substantive content of conversations and the "metadata" regarding the persons and phone numbers involved for those communications. CALEA required telephone companies to be able to install more effective wiretaps. In 2004, federal law enforcement agencies sought to expand CALEA to cover Voice over IP (VoIP) communications as well as conventional voice communications. In August 2005, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that “broadband-service providers (ISP)and interconnected VoIP providers fall within CALEA’s scope. Currently, instant messaging, web boards and site visits are not included in CALEA’s jurisdiction.[4]

The government, intelligence agencies, and police of the United States daily use wiretapping for the purpose of stopping terrorism and drugs. Both some liberals and some conservative patriots claim this can sometimes be an invasion of their privacy. Nevertheless, wiretapping has resulted in multiple arrests of drug dealers and terrorists.[5] It is occasionally asked by the supporters of big government what those who don't support wiretapping have to hide from the federal government.

Why Does Pervasive Domestic Wiretapping of Law-Abiding Citizens Matter to Conservatives?

There is a 21st century trend, as revealed by Edward Snowden, William Binney and other Bill of Rights supporting whistleblowers, towards pervasive monitoring by both the Federal government and businesses like Google via "wiretap" of law-abiding citizen's internet, smartphone and smart television (Amazon FireTV, Roku and AppleTV) activity:

This apt quote best explains the reason why this pervasive domestic surveillance matters to many patriot conservatives and veterans, who are inherently against big government, and to many citizens interested in preparedness:

  • "The progress of science in furnishing the government with means of espionage is not likely to stop with wiretapping. Ways may some day be developed by which the government, without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate occurrences of the home. Advances in the psychic and related sciences may bring means of exploring unexpressed beliefs, thoughts and emotions. 'That places the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer' was said by James Otis of much lesser intrusions than these. 1 To Lord Camden a far slighter intrusion seemed 'subversive of all the comforts of society.' Can it be that the Constitution affords no protection against such invasions of individual security?"
  • “There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’.” – Philip K. Dick

See also