Wiretapping may be described as the way in which conversations may be taken or recorded without persons having knowledge of such seizure. This is achieved by way of the use of electronic devices, for instance, which transmit the sound to other locations.
The advent of wiretapping may be traced back to the late 1800s when police departments began such practices. Traditionally, wiretapping occurred by way of identifying the appropriate lines and then placing a "tap" upon it in order to connect it to an additional device that would allow for others to listen.
Two early Supreme Court cases dealt with such a Constitutional issue. In 1928, Olmstead v. United States possessed a ruling that held that phone-tapping did not actually run in violation to the Fourth Amendment, which banned illegal search and seizure. The Court specified their reasoning being that it was not unconstitutional as long as police did not encroach upon the property of the individual being tapped. This was highly contested, though, in relation to the ideals that protection of privacy had pursued. This ruling did hold up for many years following its institution, however.
In 1967, this ruling was finally overturned in the Supreme Court case of Katz v. United States, which provided the arena for such change. The Court ruled that, in reference to a citizen's "reasonable expectation of privacy" that they are entitled to under the United States Constitution, the Federal Government must possess a warrant for wiretapping practices.
In addition to these Supreme Court rulings, Congress also went forward with modifications done to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. In general, only wiretaps granted by court were legally viable. This entailed a specific list of offenses as outlined by the Supreme Court. A time period of up to 30 days is required as the maximum length of a wiretap. The wiretap's subject of interest must also be divulged within the time frame of 90 days.
Toward the end of the 1900s, Congress broadened the law’s reach in terms of wiretapping to that of mail via the internet. The Act instituted was the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, also known as the Wiretap Act. This statute made it unlawful for the reading of an individual's private email. There has been much concern over this Act, however, as this Act did not prevent the Government from obtaining data from online service providers. Therefore, despite such an Act, the privacy of individuals on the internet was still not completely guaranteed.
The 21st Century has also presented us with additional issues to consider, such as that of former President Bush's employment of wiretaps on the "war on terror" without the possession of warrants. He cited Article II of the United States Constitution as the basis for his authority. Congress had accused the President of "breaking the law" in his authorization of the wiretapping of actual United States citizens, for instance. They may cite the Fourth Amendment alone to such an end. Despite this, however, it has been noted that a great majority of wiretapping requests have been permitted as opposed to a select few that were denied.