Electronic surveillance is increasingly fertile area of litigation as modern technology poses new problems and offers fresh investigatory tools for police and security forces around the globe. The most common method of electronic surveillance is wiretapping in which police or other state agents record telephone conversations of third parties.
The United State Supreme Court in Katz v. United concluded that the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution proteted telephone calls made within phone booths. The decision rested on two principles:
First, the Court concluded that "[t]he Government's activities in electronically listening to and recording the petitioner's words violated the privacy upon which [the defendant] justifiably relied while using the telephone booth and thus constituted a 'search and seizure' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment."
Furthermore, the Court introduced a new model for determining whether a right to privacy existed. In prior cases, the Fourth Amendment was thought to protect activities that occurred only in certain locations, such as private homes or automobiles. The Court determined that this location-based scheme was not always justified, concluding that the appropriate test was not the location. but whether the conversation was made with a "reasonable expectation of privacy." This expectation has two components. Under the subjective component the defendant must wish to make their conversation private. This desire for privacy must also be a reasonable one that society is willing to support. Under this new holding the Fourth Amendment was said to protect people, not places.
Despite the Constitutional issues surrounding wiretapping, much of wiretapping law is regulated by the Federal Government under Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control Act and Safe Streets Act of 1968.
- Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967)