39 Cornell L. Q. 195 (1953-1954)
Public Security and Wire Tapping

handle is hein.journals/clqv39 and id is 217 raw text is: CORNELL
VOLUME 39                  WINTER, 1954                   NumExi 2
Herbert Brownell, Jr.*
Wire tapping has been a matter of public concern, challenge and raging
controversy for more than twenty-five years. Since it invades the privacy
of the individual, it presents a problem that touches each of us. Every-
one agrees that unrestrained and unrestricted wire tapping by private
persons for private gain is dirty business which should be stopped.
Many persons believe that even if wire tapping is properly controlled and
authorized, it is an intolerable instrument of tyranny, impinges on the
liberties of the people and should not be sanctioned anywhere in a free
country. To many other persons, surveillance of the wires by law enforce-
ment officers under strict official supervision in cases involving national
security and defense as well as other heinous crimes, such as kidnapping,
is an essential and reasonable adjustment between the rights of the indi-
vidual and the needs and interests of society.
In our search for a new solution to this old problem, we are aided
somewhat by recent experience and disclosures of successful communist
espionage penetration in our government and by betrayal of our vital
secrets. Yet it is precisely at such a time as this when popular opinion
and passion run so high that we must be most careful that reason and
justice prevail and that the law alone shall provide the test by which evi-
dence is obtained and men are tried. Only in this way may we avoid total-
itarian techniques and tactics in preserving our democratic ideals and
There is now pending in Congress a number of bills to regulate wire
tapping. Before discussing these, I plan to trace briefly the history and
background of wiretap laws; the construction placed on these laws both
by the courts and my predecessors at the Justice Department; the way
in which these laws have thwarted prosecution of spies, subversives and
espionage agents; and pending proposals before Congress which will
remedy existing defects in the law.
* See Contributors' section, Masthead, p. 271, for biographical data.

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