1937 December 20

Supreme Court Limits Wiretapping


In a major decision regarding wiretapping of telephones, Nardone v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court on this day ruled that wiretaps without a warrant were a violation of the 1934 Communications Act, and that any evidence gathered through an illegal wiretap was inadmissible in court. (The decision on this day was followed by a subsequent one on limited procedural issues on December 11, 1939.)

In an extremely important development, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on May 21, 1940, responded to the 1939 decision by telling FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover that the decision did not apply to national security matters and that he should ignore it. (By 1939–1940 war had broken out in both Europe and Asia, and the president was preoccupied by national security concerns.) Roosevelt’s action was one of many over the years where presidents acted on the belief that there is a national security exception to existing law.

Learn more; read the Senate Church Committee report on FBI wiretapping (pp. 273–352)http://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/contents/church/contents_church_reports_book3.htm

Learn more about wiretapping from the Electronic Frontier Foundation: https://ssd.eff.org/wire/govt/wiretapping-protections

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