This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
Savarese, chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Privacy of Communication of New York, answers questions about wiretapping.
Jay Nelson Tuck moderates.
Panelists: Jack Parker, Bill Benderman, Mike Wall, Tom Pray, and Barbara Benmolche
Wiretapping is a necessary weapon to fight organized crime. Investigators need a court order. The evil is eavesdropping. The technique is wiretapping. No support of the claim that police officers have been illegally obtaining wiretaps. Responds to a Times report that accuses the police of using illegal wiretaps. Use of wiretaps is not admissible in civil cases. It is possible to distort tapes, and these are considered by the prosecution and defense. There is little chance that a doctored tape can get by in court. Hot pursuit doctrine applies only to secret microphone: police can put the microphone on and then ask for a court order. FBI cannot use wiretaps. Considering the problem we have with subversives and the "cold front war," it's unrealistic and impractical to not allow Federal officials to tap and use microphones. You must fight more modernistic crimes with more modernistic equipment. On a federal level, we are way behind the times. An individual cannot eavesdrop on others with microphones or bugs; he can but his own home. Telephone tariff requirement says you have to use the beeping noise to tell people when they are being recorded. 900 - 1,000 taps are allowed per year, according to studies. Use of illegal wire taps is a felony in New York, with a penalty of 2 years in prison. There are several places between the telephone company and your home where your line can be tapped. McGuinness case. Not in charge of protecting people from having their lines tapped. You can't tell if your line is tapped.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 72080
Municipal archives id: LT8856
This is a machine-generated transcript. Text is unformatted and may contain errors.
Is wiretapping a legitimate weapon to combat crime all restricted wiretapping big is wiretapping an invasion of privacy should illegally receive wiretap information be allowed in criminal cases can anti bugging laws be enforced or the answers to these and other questions listen now to campus press conference every Sunday at this time editors of college newspapers question a news where the personality all moderator on campus press conferences the noted newspaper man and editor Jane Nelson talk now to introduce the panel and today's guest there is Mr Tuck Good evening a scandal that seems to arise to plague us often is that of wiretapping which a justice of the United States Supreme Court once called a dirty business. Just recently an investigation led to the suspicion that someone had tapped the telephone of Charles McGinnis the Greenwich Village lawyer who opposed combine the Sapi of a district leader in the primary election. And a study just released by the fund for the Republic showed that wiretapping is widespread especially in New York and that is often done illegally by police. Our guest this evening is a man who has made a thorough study of this problem is the honorable Anthony P. Severus Jr a member of the state assembly and champion of the joint legislative committee on privacy of communications which investigated the subject as a result of that study Mr Savva race introduced a bill designed to put strict control on wiretaps by policeman and to prohibit the use by everyone else that's Bill became the law of the state most of Severus is also a practicing lawyer and in last Tuesday's election he was the unsuccessful Republican candidate for district attorney of Queens County. Here TONIGHT question of semblance of a race Jack Parker of the Fordham student Bar Association Bill been the month of W.'s Kacey are the Columbia College radio station Mike Wald of the N.Y.U. squared Journal Tom Price of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and Bob about Moshe of the Hunter College Errol Jack will lead off Mr Savva East. Wiretapping today is become a very controversial issue many people doubt whether it is a needed weapon to combat crime how do you feel about this. I feel that it is quite a necessary and legitimate weapon to fight all the knives crime our committee has taken this position since we. Reached into the problem and saw the work that the law enforcement people do with the aid of the secret microphones on wiretapping but we feel of course that it ought to be supervised we don't feel that law enforcement should have the right to use either of these techniques without proper and close court supervision. How do the Lauren Foresman agencies go about obtaining permission to wiretap a person's home or business where they are required under the law of the state of New York to make an investigation and then based on that investigation to apply to the court for permission to tap a while or use a secret microphone to eavesdrop before we get too far into the discussion I think it would be well The recognize now that the the evil is eavesdropping the technique is either wiretapping or using secret microphones and both of these now come under the control of the courts in the state of the York where only wiretapping was before our committee legislation. Like charges have been made and that the police themselves have been illegally obtaining wiretap is this true. Nobody has been able to support that charge although a great deal of innuendo has been used from time to time I think Mr Justice Douglas of the United States Supreme Court gave a figure like fifty eight thousand that caption The state of New York some years back and we refuted this we never were able to one cover any evidences of illegal tapping by the police there was an investigation some years ago and Kings County around Harry gross the bookmaker which dug up evidence of illegal tapping but they had a very vast project and a very extensive investigating step we never on covered it in or. Most Severus the prom for the Republic study that referred to a little while ago as quoted or as mentioned in the Times as saying that most wiretapping is illegal and most of it is done by law enforcement offices private investigators and employers do you know what that study was based on how thorough the investigation was or how accurate the statement is when I read the section of the book which refers to this and I think it's the probably a very unfortunate passage there is no evidence in there to support the contention that you just mentioned most of it seems to revolve itself around. People who have been in the business will make suggestions and indeed some of the footnotes where they document the statements merely state. A former detective or a former telephone pole company employee I think it's conjecture it might be a little bit better substantiated perhaps because the writer has referred to the amount of equipment in the police department and the number of men assigned to this particular work but to reach the conclusion he does on the facts that he has I think is quite unfortunate and somewhat of a serious indictment against law enforcement without sufficient factual basis for well as evidence which is gotten illegally to illegal eavesdropping as you call it and miscible in a court of law in New York State it was always admissible until our committee succeeded in an acting legislation which prevents its use in civil cases we have not been able to convince either Governor Harman on govern Iraq or follow that this evidence should not be admissible in criminal cases. Well I was also wondering along those lines what I want to safeguard the court have in cells when evidence of this nature is presented to it say on tape that the tape Eisenman doctor and in some way or another was spliced or you know the whole meaning can be changed and there are there are of course possibilities of distorting the tapes and these are considered with all of the means and techniques at the disposal of both the prosecution and defense and the court to try to assure that the tape is a true account of what was said I think there is little chance that a doctored tape can get by today in court tomorrow as I understand it Mr Savva is the police allowed in the case of hot pursuit to wiretap a particular suspect or promises without court order is this a legal loophole is this a danger when your premises a little bit inaccurate. The hot pursuit doctrine arises only with respect to secret microphones remember until our legislation there was never any control over the use of secret microphones either by the police the district attorneys or private persons. When we succeeded in getting our legislation across from the first time anywhere in the country you now had prohibition against private use of secret microphones and they controlled by court order of over the use of secret microphones by law enforcement and in this case we had to work out a compromise to ensure an accident which said that if the police were in hot pursuit of a criminal and did not have time to obtain the court order to establish a secret microphone they could first put the microphone on and then applied for the court order now this is and completely satisfactory but it it's it's pretty good because it inhibits and the. Willy nilly attaching of secret microphones they they wouldn't do it unless they had really good basis for doing it and if they did it too often the courts would begin to become annoyed when they came in for an order after the fact and I think it's a fairly effective control not as good as the control over see all the wiretapping but a reasonably good deal of surgeries would you care to see as far as a national program is concerned the same type of control that exists against. A lawful fishing parties is for a search of a private house where by this I mean in wiretap cases with the right to see definite evidence provided that there is a criminal lead before the person can go in and have a lawyer well on a national level of course there's no wiretapping at all the F.B.I. and not permitted to do this I think this is quite unrealistic and in this day and age considering the problem we have with subversives and the color front war and everything else goes with it I think it's very unrealistic and impractical certainly for security measures in cases of espionage and the like off federal officials should be able to tap and use microphones similarly to our police officials in the state and you would agree with the noted law enforcement officers which I shall love a writ. You must fight more modernistic crime methods with more modernistic on for support the deterrent surely and you feel that the one force when agencies of the country are falling behind the times particularly in regard to word tapping Well not the state not the state law enforcement agencies because states like New York State for instance have have moved in and recognize the the modern techniques but on a federal level rock level we are in my judgment way behind the times Barbara what are some women can a private citizen legally I think the word of vog his own apartment or a telephone I mean does he have this right. The. The in the way I can best answer that is to say there's a private price and cannot eavesdrop upon another's conversation by either bugging or wiretapping Now if he puts a bob or a secret microphone in his own apartment and it records conversations between him and somebody else he hasn't violated the law it's not a violation of the Federal Communications Act Don't they require that there be notification of recording of telephone conversations now you understand this is a this is no this is a telephone tariff requirement that's the little beep sound literally you're referring to if you. Talk to somebody over the phone on your record is conversation without his knowledge that is you don't use that beep sound to advise him you have violated a telephone company tariff regulations but you've committed no while ation of law and the only thing they can do is to move in and take out the telephone but this happens of course very infrequently. Like through the advances of science is now possible to create microphones so small that they can't be detected so even if you have laws that outlaw secret mikes by putting private individuals what good are they. Well. That's a good question I don't think by an acting our legislation to prohibit the use of these devices that we stop the use completely anymore than when you prohibit murder you stop murders but I think you put the pretty good control on it because the punishment is severe and people aren't willing to violate the law too readily. But in the case of murder you have a body you know a crime has been committed in the case of secret mikes you might not even know a crime has been committed Well that's true and when you discover that there's a penalty when you don't and there's no penalty it's a very difficult thing to to discover as as I've said before our own investigation we had a great deal of trouble trying to uncover instances of the violation we uncovered some but it isn't easy. To act we were discussing before the prevalence of wiretapping or eavesdropping Mr Savva ace in your knowledge how many legally authorized wiretaps are permitted in New York state on an annual basis we had the district attorneys of the five counties in Manhattan testify before us and nine hundred fifty five and then we sent a survey out throughout the states the state to see what the other more enforcement people did I don't recall the exact figure but I think in New York City their statistics reflected perhaps. Nine hundred to one thousand taps a year pursuant to a court order now you might. You might feel that they're doing it without court order but that's your privilege as a spectator but this is not the sort of thing that a legislative committee can do we can't deal and then you whine that we have to stay with the facts we discover. Will suffer if you seem to be indicating to me that you will do a poor owing all wiretapping and why a title that you feel would have been civil rights are just wondering what type of puddle things you would like to see imposed upon wiretap offenders Well we have a we've made a felony in New York. By our legislation with a penalty of two years in prison and that's pretty serious offense that's about as tough as your to be when I was anybody ever been convicted of it yes probably the notorious wiretapping was convicted under our legislation and he's appeal his conviction right up to the United States Supreme Court and. Looks like he's going to jail. Well know the man that we discovered and around will most of our investigation Senate child's big wrist We got a great deal of information on him and exposed him and. His license was taken away as a private detective and shortly thereafter he was found dead I don't know why or how but I think he killed them so this leads to an interesting thing because someone earlier brought up the matter of illegally obtained wiretap evidence being used in court. Even in criminal cases now when that's done obviously some police officers violated the law has any ever been even charged under the law and what's was convicted and all they are not used such evidence to our knowledge in any prosecutions whatever well if some private citizen signs and he has phone or his house has been eavesdropped upon in this illegal manner I'm afraid to use the word wiretapping that. What recourse does he have and I suppose a year in current law says like a business telephone and there are certain deals and are not to be disclosed until a later date and then somebody else signed that about them and can found them up and things lost quite a bit of money on this Does he have any recourse you know that's a very very good question as a matter of fact our original legislative package considered that problem we felt that if you take the profit out of eavesdropping you did take away most of the motive for doing it but we were unable to succeed in that legislation for the obvious reason that it's difficult to draw the line when this is proper and improper particularly with respect to your business the newspaper business. Reporters and newspapers have felt that there are many situations where they might come upon evidence upon stories and information through eavesdropping which they themselves did not do and once you once once you start to impose a civil penalties that is damage money damages for these disclosures you bring them into a position where they may be on very very dangerous ground so on legislation never succeeded will. Of Well perhaps you would call it a double barreled question number one. I would like to know the usual method that has been used to discover that wiretapping has been performed realize you might know what to tell us