October 22, 2009


(Not too terribly far off the mark)

At the height of Cold War paranoia and subversives seemingly everywhere, the question over whether or not to make Wiretapping a legal procedure got a lot of attention in the 1950s.

So in 1956, part of its American Forum series, the question was posed to a Senator and Congressman - both Democrats, but one casually known as a Dixiecrat.

Emanual Celler (D-New York) favored Wiretapping but only in cases of National Security (the definition of National Security got a bit loose and fuzzy by 2002) while E.L. Forrester (D-Georgia) wanted everything wiretapped. Forrester, it should be noted was one of the early signers of the Southern Manifesto from the Alabama Council of Conservative Citizens . . .nuff said.

Emanual Celler: “I simply want to make wiretapping per se` a crime in the federal courts when it’s done across state lines. And in that sense, every wiretap would be illegal, except . . and the exception would be in the interests of national security. I would surrender some privacy and the right of privacy in the interests of preservation of our great nation and in the interests of national security. So that where the federal officials are running down malefactors against our espionage laws or sabotage laws or Atomic energy act or National security laws, I will say ‘alright, wiretap’ and use that evidence in the court, But anything beyond national security, I know I would say no, I would interdict that."

E.L. Forrest: “Now of course I wouldn’t agree with you. I would say that the states should have some laws on the subject. And that evidence of wiretapping should be admissible in courts. Now let me show you what you’re doing - Now I say to you that it is completely possible that a man could, in his own home here in the city of Washington, by using his telephone as his agent, that he could carry on all over the world a conspiracy dealing in narcotics. His agent in Atlanta could sit in his own home and he could talk to him on the phone, he could tell him to meet a plane and to go down and take the narcotics off of the plane – all right. Now that agent in Atlanta could call the messenger boy, over there in his own home and tell him to go down and meet that plane. What you’re doing, you are just giving the criminal a one way street and you’re not giving the police officer any opportunity to catch him.”

And so it went in 1956. The relentless dilemma.

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