Wiretapping Laws More Lenient Than You Think

Dec 9, 2012

We’ve all seen those episodes of Law & Order or CSI where the informant wears a wire and helps catch the bad guy. How about when they listen in on phone conversations as the main character sets up the ransom drop? It’s all entertaining when it’s happening to them, on TV, but what about when it’s happening to you? As shocking as it may seem, it’s still very legal to conduct this type of investigation all over the world.

United States and Canada

Generally, the United States of America tends to be stricter on laws regarding the lawful intercept of information. Between federal and local laws, loopholes have basically been closed. Since technological advances began taking off in the 60s, so have the attempts to intercept the information. With the Patriot Act and other amendments, they’ve increased the government’s birth, but they’re still more conservative than their global counterparts.

Way back in 1968, the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act allowed the interception of technological data and communications when it benefited a criminal investigation. Then in 1978 they reiterated that fact with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, called FISA for short. This Act allowed for the wire-tapping for the purpose of intelligence gathering. The only catch was that the subject had to be a foreign national or agent for a foreign agency.

In the 90s, the federal government, with the help of Congress, enacted the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). This Act in some form or another was passed all over the world. This allowed the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to wire-tap more effectively, using more modern digital voice technology and wireless networks. Now network operators are allowed to assist the FBI with pulling phone records and obtaining a lawful intercept of live communications.

European Union

In 1995 the Lawful Interception of Telecommunications Act, Resolution 17, which was Europe’s version of the CALEA, was enacted across the European Council’s reach. Many European Union countries were reluctant at first due to strict privacy concerns; they eventually came around and realised the importance of the enactment. Considering the fact that interception mandates throughout the EU and the Netherlands have been prominent for many years before the rest of the world, it’s interesting to note the resistance these measures met in the beginning.

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