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The conflict between individual privacy and the needs of law enforcement occurs at a number of points in our system of criminal justice. It is not unique to wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping, but the competing claims in that area do have their own special character. They are qualitatively different from those in regard to, say, confessions. The kinds of crimes and criminals affected are different, as are the relevant assertions about individual freedom.

Law enforcement officials, almost to a man, consider wiretapping and eavesdropping valuable weapons in the fight against crime. They are most helpful in regard to consensual crimes and crimes of a continuing nature, such as gambling, prostitution, narcotics offenses, and abortion. Electronic surveillance may also be effective in extortion and kidnapping cases, but in the ordinary situations at least, the victimized party will consent to police overhearing. The claim that using electronic devices is important in certain national security cases is plausible and often made, though, understandably, not well documented. Wiretapping and eavesdropping are of little assistance in solving the relatively spontaneous crimes, often committed by teenagers, which are responsible for the increase in the crime rate.


Law | Law Enforcement and Corrections | Privacy Law