Wiretap Act

The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (John F. Kennedy increased public alertness to the relative lack of control over the sale and possession of guns in the United States.


The LEAA, which was superseded by the Office of Justice Programs, provided federal grant funding for criminology and criminal justice research, much which focused on social aspects of crime.[1] Research grants were also provided to develop alternative sanctions for punishment of young offenders. Block grants were provided to the states, with $100 million in funding.[2] Within that amount, $50 million was earmarked for assistance to local law enforcement agencies, which included funds to deal with riot control and organized crime.[2]


The Omnibus Crime Bill also prohibited interstate trade in handguns, increased the minimum age to 21 for buying handguns, and established a national gun licensing system.[2] This legislation was soon followed by the Gun Control Act of 1968, which set forth additional gun control restrictions.


It was passed in part as a response to the Supreme Court decisions Berger v. New York, 388 U.S. 41 (1967) and Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967), which the Church Committee Report on the FBI's COINTELPRO program described as holding "that the Fourth Amendment did apply to searches and seizures of conversations and protected all conversations of an individual as to which he had a reasonable expectation of privacy".

Section 2511(3) specifies that nothing in this act or the Federal Communications Act of 1934 shall limit the constitutional power of the President "to take such measures as he deems necessary ":

  • "to protect the nation against actual or potential attack or other hostile acts of a foreign power, to obtain foreign intelligence information deemed essential to the security of the United States or to protect national security information against foreign intelligence activities"
  • "to protect the United States against the overthrow of the Government by force or other unlawful means, or against any other clear and present danger to the structure or existence of the Government"

The section also limits use in evidence only where the interception was reasonable and prohibits disclosure except for purpose.

The Church report noted that "At no time, however, were the Justice Department's standards and procedures ever applied to NSA's electronic monitoring system and its 'watch listing' of American citizens. From the early 1960s until 1973, NSA compiled a list of individuals and organizations, including 1200 American citizens and domestic groups, whose communications were segregated from the mass of communications intercepted by the Agency, transcribed, and frequently disseminated to other agencies for intelligence purposes".

FBI Expansion

The bill increased the FBI budget by 10%, in order to fund police training at its National Academy. Much of this training was for riot control, a popular political issue at that time.[3]

Miranda warning

In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miranda v. Arizona had created the requirement, between arrest and interrogation of virtually any criminal defendant in the United States, for what came to be called Miranda warnings. Responding to various complaints that such warnings let too many criminals go free, Congress (in provisions codified under 18 U.S.C. § 3501) -- with clear intent to reverse the effect of the court ruling—included a provision in the Act directing federal trial judges to admit statements of criminal defendants if they were made voluntarily, without regard to whether he had received the Miranda warnings.

The stated criteria for voluntary statements depended on such things as:

(1) the time between arrest and arraignment;
(2) whether the defendant knew the crime for which he had been arrested;
(3) whether he had been told that he did not have to talk to the police and that any statement could be used against him;
(4) whether the defendant knew prior to questioning that he had the right to the assistance of counsel; and,
(5) whether he actually had the assistance of counsel during questioning.

It also provided that the "presence or absence of any of" these factors "need not be conclusive on the issue of voluntariness of the confession." (As a Federal statute, it applied only to criminal proceedings either under federal laws, or in the District of Columbia.)

That provision was disallowed by a Federal appeals court decision that was not appealed, and escaped Supreme Court review until 32 years after passage, when another appeals court (the Fourth Circuit, covering states from South Carolina to Maryland) failed to follow suit and reversed one of its district courts in Dickerson v. United States. It reasoned, following a paper by University of Utah law professor Paul G. Cassell, that Miranda was not a constitutional requirement, that Congress could therefore overrule it by legislation, and that the provision had supplanted the requirement that police give Miranda warnings.

The Supreme Court then agreed to hear the case. Typically, it overrules constitutional decisions only when their doctrinal underpinnings have eroded, and the majority justices found, in 2000, both that it had intended Miranda as an interpretation of the Constitution, and that "If anything, our subsequent cases have reduced the impact of the Miranda rule on legitimate law enforcement while reaffirming the decision's core ruling that unwarned statements may not be used as evidence in the prosecution's case in chief."

See also


External links

  • List of privacy/tapping legislation at Government Computer News
  • Church report summary of the passing of this law
  • text of the Church Report which references this law.
  • Text of the Act from the FCC library
  • A Primer on the Federal Wiretap Act and Its Fourth Amendment Framework
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