Legislators last week filed a bill that would greatly expand the scope of the state’s wiretap law.
The current law, enacted in 1968, allows police to obtain a warrant for wiretap surveillance only in cases involving organized crime. Under the proposed new law, officers still would need to obtain a warrant, but the scope of available surveillance would be much greater. Specifically, the proposed new law:
- Expands the definition of “wire communication” to cover advancements in communication technology, to ensure that all forms of wire communications are covered now and into the future;
- Expands the scope of criminal activity covered, beyond organized crime, to include violent crimes; trafficking in guns and drugs; human trafficking; child pornography; and money laundering; and
- Extends the allowable period of surveillance to 30 days, twice the current allowable period of 15 days.
Proponents of the new law, including Attorney General Martha Coakley and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, have hailed it as a logical, necessary and long-overdue “update” to an outdated law. They claim the legislation is simply a means of leveling the playing field – of bringing the wiretap law in line with advances in technology and the changing nature of crime in the state. The legislation is intended to give law enforcement the means and power to effectively investigate and prosecute violent street crimes.
Opponents of the proposed new law, including myself and other Massachusetts criminal defense lawyers, see it as a blatant power grab by law enforcement and one more step down toward unchecked government surveillance of private citizens. Wiretaps are an extreme measure and should be reserved for extreme cases where ordinary investigative tools are inadequate – that is, for cases involving sophisticated, disciplined and organized criminal activity – just as the current law intended. Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights and the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantee the right to be free from unwarranted searches. This proposed legislation takes direct aim at that right, under the usual guise of “common sense” and “public safety.” There will always be dangers, as there have been throughout the history of mankind. And though the crime rate continues to fall, law enforcement clamors for additional “tools” to investigate and prosecute crimes. Today, after all, law enforcement poses a greater danger to most citizens than the criminals law enforcement pursues.
Contact Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer, Kevin J. Mahoney
When you are suspected of or charged with criminal conduct, you quickly learn that police officers and prosecutors wield tremendous power in the criminal justice system. An experienced Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer can help protect you from government overreaching. If you are facing criminal charges and would like to talk about your situation, please call me, at 617-492-0055, to schedule a free initial consultation.
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