The war on wiretapping

Sarah Brewington | Staff Writer

Authorities wiretap hundreds of LA homes in drug stings.

Authorities wiretap hundreds of LA homes in drug stings.

The war on drugs may have run into the fourth amendment in Riverside, California. After extensive investigations, USA Today uncovered that wiretapping, intended to combat the war on drugs, has also breached telephone conversations in hundreds of American homes.

According to USA Today, Riverside was the location of about one-fifth of all wiretaps in the United States last year. Intercepting nearly two million conversations in thousands of homes, U.S. government officials attempted to sequester the drug business that takes place near the Los Angeles area.

Wiretapping reaches many aspects of the California community. USD former basketball star Brandon Johnson was convicted of bribery three years ago after the FBI used wire taps, amongst other means, to uncover a scheme involving fixing basketball games. Johnson was sentenced to six months in prison in 2013 and told ESPN in 2014 that he is a new person and is getting back into basketball.

Law enforcement officials are allowed to wiretap with acceptable probable cause and a court order under the fourth amendment. According to the USA Today investigation a judge who authorized more wiretaps than any other judge in the country signed off on hundreds of investigations. Wiretapping, while legal, is limited to a last ditch effort by law enforcement officials to collect evidence for a case. While the Riverside law enforcement officials intercepted several drug exchanges and shipments, the question remains if they went too far.

Some are saying that the officials became too zealous in their attempts to catch the ‘bad guys’ and violated rights to privacy.

Political science professor at the University of San Diego, Del Dickson, PhD., believes that some evaluation of privacy conduct should take place.

“The government ought to take a top-to-bottom look at current government procedures for obtaining warrants in wiretap cases, especially in instances where the government claims a national security interest, or claims a need to be able to plant a wiretap without a warrant,” Dickson said. “We ought to make sure that the judge/magistrate is truly neutral, and holds the government to its burden of demonstrating probable cause before any wiretap can be used.”

USA Today reported that many of the court documents and precise numbers of wiretaps were sealed to the public. Dickson believes that this too should be under review.

“Finally, the evidence used to obtain the wiretap, and the judge’s decision, should be considered a public record, and subject to public review— not locked up in a top-secret file in some nameless government office in an undisclosed location somewhere,” Dickson said.

Dickson explained how wiretapping is a violation of privacy.

“Americans have a constitutional right of privacy, that includes a total ban on unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment,” Dickson said. “Wiretapping involves a search and seizure of private communications, and it is covered by the Fourth Amendment.”

Dickson explained that while the government’s goals are admirable, the tenacity to achieve the end goal might get in the way of correct procedure.

“The problem is that government, often with the best motives, inevitably tries to cheat on the warrant requirement,” Dickson said. “This has been especially true with national security cases, but it is also true of law enforcement efforts to deal with everyday crimes.”

The USA Today reported that because of government shortcuts, amongst further review several cases were overturned because of the way evidence was obtained.

While wiretapping seems to be an invasion of privacy, there is no promise of stricter wiretapping laws. Although USD community members may not have to worry about their own homes being wiretapped it is a different story for individuals in the greater Los Angeles area.