What is a Wiretap? How Does the Federal Government Use Wiretaps?

An investigation by a United States governmental agency has multiple layers of oversight. The first layer is the internal policies and controls of the agency in charge of the investigation. The next layer includes the scope of the agency’s authorization to investigate. Another layer is oversight by a judge. If a federal agency like the FBI or DEA wants to tap a phone it has to apply for a wiretap.

A wiretap is a term that explains what the agency intends to do. Before wireless communications, agents would physical cut into a wire or “tap” the wire that carried a conversation from one phone to another. By “tapping” into the wire, the agents could monitor a conversation between two people at different telephones. This method produces very persuasive evidence that can be used against a defendant.

Wiretaps require court approval

However, a judge has give permission to the agency before the agency can wiretap a means of communication. A judge has to give permission because judges are concerned that the right of innocent people will be violated by the actions of the government agents. For example, suppose a government agency taps a phone line. Although there might be criminals who use this line, the same line could be used by individuals who are not involved in the criminal activity. If two innocent people have a conversation on a tapped line and the government listens to that conversation, the government has violated those individuals’ rights. In order to lessen the likelihood of intercepting innocent conversations, the government agents who use a wiretap must operate under specific instructions and must also follow instructions to minimize the interception of protected conversations.

What to do if wiretaps are being used against you

If a wiretap is part of you case, it is important to not only understand the statutory and constitutional restrictions on the use of wiretaps, but also to understand how minimization requirements limit the scope of the agent’s activity. Without knowledge of each of these parts and how to explore whether the government has followed all the requirements it has to, your attorney will not be prepared to represent your interests. If the federal government is trying to use wiretaps against you in a drug conspiracy or other federal criminal case call our Federal Criminal Defense Team today. We offer free confidential consultations for all federal criminal cases and we are ready to talk to you."

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