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Eavesdropping Reform: The Legality of Roving Surveillance

NCJ Number
University of Illinois Law Review Volume: 1987 Issue: 3 Dated: (1988) Pages: 401-430
M Goldsmith
Date Published
30 pages
After reviewing the development and structure of Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act (which pertains to electronic surveillance), this article considers the origin of the roving surveillance concept, analyzes statutory issues raised by the new law, and evaluates the new law's constitutionality.
As amended by the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, Title III surveillance orders need not designate the surveillance site if specificity is 'not practical.' As a result, persons targeted for eavesdropping may be exposed to continuous or 'roving' surveillance. This development threatens to reduce privacy protection and deserves careful scrutiny. In Katz v. United States (1967), the U.S. Supreme Court established that the fourth amendment may accommodate new investigative procedures when 'similar protections' ensure 'no greater invasion of privacy ... than ... necessary under the circumstances.' Title III provides a framework consistent with this standard. Congress, however, should reform the roving surveillance procedure to enhance privacy protections. Congress should impose more stringent time limitations on roving surveillance and require strict judicial supervision. Congress should also modify the probable cause requirement for roving surveillance. Additional reforms should be the authorization of State law enforcement officials to use roving surveillance, clarification of the term 'not practical' to ensure that roving orders are not restricted only to surveillance-conscious offenders, and repeal of the proviso precluding surveillance pending definite site determination. Appended suggested statutory text for reform of the roving surveillance statute. 168 footnotes.


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