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Electronic Surveillance Makes a Comeback, Part One

NCJ Number
Police Magazine Volume: 6 Issue: 2 Dated: (March 1983) Pages: 8-12,14,17,19,24-25
K Krajick
Date Published
11 pages
Although electronic surveillance has increased in recent years under Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), many consider such surveillance not to be cost-effective.
After nearly a century of debate and uncertainty, Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 finally gave police the conclusive right to use electronic surveillance. The law requires special search warrants for electronic surveillance and detailed annual reports to Congress on every police wiretap and bug in the country. Before a judge is allowed to issue a Title III warrant, the police must give evidence that they will intercept specific persons discussing specific crimes. The law makes it clear that electronic surveillance must be the investigative method of last resort. Warrants are valid for no more than 30 days. Narcotics is now the most common offense that police investigate through the use of electronic eavesdropping, although gambling offenses were the favorite target when Title III first went into effect. Electronic surveillance is costly, and many people have noted that only persons at the lowest levels of criminal organizations generally engage in incriminating conversations subject to wiretap, thus raising the issue of the cost-effectiveness of electronic surveillance. Electronic surveillance under FISA focuses on communications pertinent to threats to national security. Conditions for obtaining a warrant under FISA are much less stringent than under Title III, and Federal agencies operating under FISA can share their intelligence information with other law enforcement agencies. This has caused some to question the effectiveness of the restrictions mandated in Title III if it is possible for wiretap information to be secured under a liberal application of electronic surveillance under FISA.