1957 January 15

NYC Bar Association Urges Curbs on Wiretapping


The Association of the Bar of New York City on this day adopted resolutions urging new state laws restricting wiretapping. The group recommended that the state legislature strengthen existing laws and allow wiretapping only in accordance with the New York state constitution and the laws of the state. It also recommended a law to exclude from evidence in criminal trials of any evidence obtained by an illegal wiretap.

In a separate resolution, the Bar Association recommended further study of possible bans on other forms of eavesdropping, including “bugging,” or surveillance by means other than wiretapping.

The state legislature had passe laws limiting wiretapping in its previous session, but Governor Averell Harrriman, a Democrat, vetoed them.

The issue of wiretapping was a long controversy. See the Supreme Court decisions limiting wiretapping on December 20, 1937 and December 11, 1937. Nonetheless, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the FBI to conduct wiretapping on May 21, 1940. President Harry Truman continued that authorization on July 17, 1946. President Lyndon Johnson, however, restricted all government wiretapping on both June 30, 1965 and June 16, 1967, although in practice he knew about and tolerated FBI wiretapping and even authorized wiretaps himself. On August 25, 1964, for example, he ordered the FBI to spy on civil rights activists and the 1964 Democratic Party Convention.

Learn more about U.S. presidents and wiretapping: Samuel Walker, Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama (2012)

And more about the history of wiretapping: https://www.aclu.org/criminal-law-reform/aclu-history-wiretapping-new-kind-search-and-seizure

Read the Senate Church Committee report on the history of FBI wiretapping (pp. 271–351): http://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/contents/church/contents_church_reports_book3.htm

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