Massachusetts in 1968 faced a formidable threat to public safety. Small groups of close-knit, disciplined racketeers made their fortunes, providing the same services our state lottery offers today.
The Massachusetts wiretapping law was passed that year to combat the corruption and violence associated with these organizations. Traditional investigative methods were not enough. Witnesses were intimidated from testifying and the rule of law was threatened. The legislator has authorized electronic surveillance of these criminal enterprises, which has proven to be an effective tool.
Today, we are dealing with a new generation of criminals, less disciplined but more violent and reckless. Much younger than their predecessors, the new offenders, lured into this life by the old lures of quick money and prestige, engage in crimes such as drug, gun and sex trafficking as fundraising. trade.
Gang violence is a reality in many American cities. Prone to senseless vendettas, street gangs too often resort to murder to settle their differences. Obeying the law in gang territory can often feel desperate and hopeless. Turning in state evidence probably means a bullet.
Governor Charlie Baker has proposed an amendment that would update the state’s wiretap law to meet these current realities. The law is one of the most restrictive surveillance laws in the country. The proposed legislation would retain its strict probable cause standards and mandatory requirement for direct judicial review of any surveillance.
What has changed are the types of crimes that can justify its use. The governor’s bill would expand the scope of the law to include certain crimes in cases that are not gang-related, including murder, rape, hate crimes and human trafficking, drugs and guns.
The reluctance to wiretap is understandable because of the potential abuse that can occur. However, in my experience, the courts in Massachusetts have been very good at exercising strict control over the process and there is no reason to believe that would not remain the case.
The governor’s bill is a prudent adjustment to improve the effectiveness of law enforcement where it is desperately needed. This measure can bring peace and justice to many of our most violent neighborhoods and stem the flow of guns and drugs while rescuing victims of human trafficking. It’s a risk to take.
Director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts
We live in the golden age of surveillance. Smart devices are ubiquitous, with a myriad of apps collecting and storing untold amounts of our personal data every day. Much of this information is readily available to law enforcement through subpoenas, court orders, warrants, and emergency requests. It is now possible – and in many cases far too easy – for investigators to access a wealth of data on the movements, associations, habits and private communications of each criminal suspect. In short, the government can track and monitor people with unprecedented ease – so why should we hold them more accountable?
Massachusetts’ current wiretapping law is among the most protective in the country — and Bay Staters should be proud of it. When it was enacted in 1968, lawmakers were rightly concerned about allowing government agents to tap into private phone calls and install listening devices in homes, cars and businesses. As the lawmakers wrote at the time, “the uncontrolled development and unrestricted use of modern electronic surveillance devices presents grave dangers to the privacy of all citizens of the Commonwealth”. This is why they demanded that wiretapping be subject to “strict judicial control” and “limited to the investigation of organized crime”.
This is an important limit. It ensures that the highly invasive tactic of wiretapping is only used for the most serious offenses involving coordination between multiple people, which is also when surveillance of personal communications would be most useful. Governor Baker’s new bill would remove this reasonable restriction, allowing government agents to install listening devices in private businesses and the homes of people suspected of petty crimes like selling small amounts of drugs and many more. offenses unrelated to organized criminal activity. Expanding government surveillance powers in this way would increase the “grave danger” lawmakers have warned us about, with the potential for unintended consequences like political harassment and intimidation.
Every year, new technologies expand the government’s reach into the privacy of millions of Massachusetts residents. If there’s a crisis in Massachusetts, it’s that electronic surveillance is far too easy to conduct and subject to far too few restrictions to protect individual privacy and other basic freedoms. The wiretapping law is one of the few effective privacy laws in the state. Let’s not spoil it.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact [email protected].
This is not a scientific investigation. Please vote only once.