The debate over wiretapping in criminal investigations

Wiretapping has been long used by law enforcement but as technology changes, there is concern that rights could be violated.

The use of wiretapping is a popular method with Florida law enforcement agencies in criminal investigations, especially those concerning drugs. The United States Courts' 2013 report on the subject revealed that across the country, state and federal judges approved more than 3,000 requests for wiretapping by authorities. Out of that number, 80 percent of the applications were filed by six states, including Florida, and 87 percent of all applications were for illegal drug investigations.

Wiretapping leads to serious drug charges

Last year, multiple drug charges were filed against five people in Florida after an investigation provided evidence that they were distributing and buying cocaine, molly and marijuana. The Orlando Sentinel states that, if convicted, they could be handed a prison sentence from 15 to 90 years. One of the people was found with drugs in his possession as well as in his home and his vehicle.

The investigation was launched after authorities received a tip anonymously. Employing the use of wiretapping, authorities were able to record conversations from four phones, which revealed that the people were discussing the buying and selling of the drugs.

Invasion of privacy?

The Fourth Amendment grants people freedom from unwarranted search and seizure, and there is some concern that wiretapping violates these rights. Cornell University Law School's Legal Information Institute points out that telephone conversations from a home or private residence would fall under this protection since people would have no reason to think that someone else could be listening to their call.

That said, law enforcement agencies have been given legislative freedoms over the years that allow the use of wiretapping in investigations concerning serious crime, such as murder or drug trafficking. However, to use a wiretap, law enforcement must apply for a warrant and show a court why the wiretap is needed. In addition, courts have used a bill, referred to as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, to give law enforcement the right to bug homes by entering those homes, often without the property owner's knowledge.

Extending wiretaps to the Internet

As technology has developed, many agencies are now looking at the Internet as a source for wiretapping. The New Yorker discussed the heated debate that has risen over government agencies tapping into the web. On one side, law enforcement states that phones are not the only source of communication between people involved in serious crimes and tapping the Internet can provide a wealth of evidence.

However, on the other side, opponents worry that the expansion of wiretapping laws could lead to a violation of people's rights. They argue that allowing the government this type of power is a form of oppression and tyranny which goes against the very foundations upon which the U.S. was made. There is also concern that law enforcement could bypass the use of a warrant and instead, simply subpoena the Internet providers to obtain the information.

When someone in Florida has been charged with a serious offense, such as drug trafficking or production, knowing the law can greatly affect the outcome of the case. Seeking the advice of a criminal defense attorney can help people understand what their constitutional rights are and determine whether any of those rights have been violated.