|Berger v. New York
[ Clark ]
[ Douglas ]
[ Stewart ]
[ Black ]
[ Harlan ]
[ White ]
Berger v. New York
CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF NEW YORK
MR. JUSTICE WHITE, dissenting.
With all due respect, I dissent from the majority's decision which unjustifiably strikes down "on its face" a 1938 New York statute applied by state officials in securing petitioner's conviction. In addition, I find no violation of petitioner's constitutional rights, and I would affirm.
At petitioner's trial for conspiring to bribe the Chairman of the New York State Liquor Authority, the prosecution introduced tape recordings obtained through an eavesdrop of the office of Harry Steinman which had been authorized by court order pursuant to § 813-a, N.Y.Code Crim.Proc. Since Berger was rightfully in Steinman's office when his conversations were recorded through the Steinman eavesdrop, he is entitled to have those recordings excluded at his trial if they were unconstitutionally obtained. Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257; Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505. Petitioner vigorously argues that all judicially authorized eavesdropping violates Fourth Amendment rights, but his position is unsound.
Two of petitioner's theories are easily answered. First, surreptitious electronic recording of conversations among private persons, and introduction of the recording during a criminal trial, do not violate the Fifth Amendment's ban against compulsory self-incrimination, because the conversations are not the product of any official compulsion. Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438; Hoffa v. United States, 385 U.S. 293; Osborn v. United States, 385 U.S. 323. Second, our decision in Warden v. Hayden, 387 U.S. 294, answers petitioner's contention that eavesdropping under § 813-a constitutes an unlawful search for "mere evidence"; whatever the limits of the search and seizure power may be under the Fourth Amendment, [p108] the oral evidence of a furtive bribery conspiracy sought in the application for the Steinman eavesdrop order was within the scope of proper police investigation into suspected criminal activity.
Petitioner primarily argues that eavesdropping is invalid, even pursuant to court order or search warrant, because it constitutes a "general search" barred by the Fourth Amendment. Petitioner suggests that the search is inherently overbroad because the eavesdropper will overhear conversations which do not relate to criminal activity. But the same is true of almost all searches of private property which the Fourth Amendment permits. In searching for seizable matters, the police must necessarily see or hear, and comprehend, items which do not relate to the purpose of the search. That this occurs, however, does not render the search invalid, so long as it is authorized by a suitable search warrant and so long as the police, in executing that warrant, limit themselves to searching for items which may constitutionally be seized. [n1] Thus, while I would agree with petitioner that individual searches of private property through surreptitious eavesdropping with a warrant must be carefully circumscribed to avoid excessive invasion of privacy and security, I cannot agree that all such intrusions are constitutionally impermissible general searches.
This case boils down, therefore, to the question of whether § 813-a was constitutionally applied in this case. At the outset, it is essential to note that the recordings of the Neyer office eavesdrop were not introduced at petitioner's trial, nor was petitioner present during this electronic surveillance, nor were any of petitioner's words recorded by that eavesdrop. The only links between the [p109] Neyer eavesdrop and petitioner's conviction are (a) that evidence secured from the Neyer recordings was used in the Steinman affidavits, which in turn led to the Steinman eavesdrop where petitioner's incriminating conversations were overheard, and (b) that the Neyer eavesdrop recorded what may have been [n2] the Neyer end of a telephone conversation between Neyer and Berger. In my opinion, it is clear that neither of these circumstances is enough to establish that Berger's Fourth Amendment interests were invaded by the eavesdrop in Neyer's office. Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471; Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257. Thus, petitioner cannot secure reversal on the basis of the allegedly unconstitutional Neyer eavesdrop.
I turn to the circumstances surrounding the issuance of the one eavesdrop order which petitioner has "standing" to challenge. On June 11, 1962, Assistant District Attorney David Goldstein filed an affidavit before Judge Joseph Sarafite of the New York County Court of General Sessions requesting a court order under § 813-a authorizing the Steinman eavesdrop. Goldstein averred that the District Attorney's office was investigating [p110] alleged corruption in the State Liquor Authority, that the office had obtained evidence of a conspiracy between Authority officials and private attorneys to extort large illegal payments from liquor license applicants, that a "duly authorized eavesdropping device" had previously been installed in the office of Neyer, who was suspected of acting as a conduit for the bribes, and that this device had obtained evidence
that conferences relative to the payment of unlawful fees necessary to obtain liquor licenses occur in the office of one Harry Steinman, located in Room 801 at 15 East 48th Street, in the County, City and State of New York.
The affidavit went on to describe Steinman at length as a prospective liquor license applicant and to relate evidence of a specific payoff which Steinman was likely to make, through Neyer, in the immediate future. On the basis of these facts, the affidavit concluded that
there is reasonable ground to believe that evidence of crime may be obtained by overhearing and recording the conversations, communications and discussions that may take place in the office of Harry Steinman which is located in Room 801 at 15 East 48th Street,
and requested an order authorizing an eavesdrop until August 11, 1962. An affidavit of Assistant District Attorney Alfred Scotti verified the information contained in the Goldstein affidavit. The record also indicates that the affidavits were supplemented by orally presenting to Judge Sarafite all of the evidence obtained from the Neyer eavesdrop. But assuming that the Steinman court order was issued on the affidavits alone, I am confident that those affidavits are sufficient under the Fourth Amendment.
Goldstein's affidavit described with "particularity" what crime Goldstein believed was being committed; it requested authority to search one specific room; it described the principal object of the search -- Steinman and his coconspirators -- and the specific conversations [p111] which the affiant hoped to seize; it gave a precise time limit to the search, and it told the judge the manner in which the affiant had acquired his information. Petitioner argues that the reliability of the Neyer eavesdrop information was not adequately verified in the Steinman affidavit. But the Neyer eavesdrop need not be explained in detail in an application to the very judge who had authorized it just two months previously. Judge Sarafite had every reason to conclude that the Neyer eavesdrop was a reliable basis for suspecting a criminal conspiracy (consisting, as the recording did, of admissions by Steinman and other coconspirators) and that it was the source of the specific evidence recited in the Steinman affidavits.
[A]ffidavits for search warrants, such as the one involved here, must be tested and interpreted by magistrates and courts in a common sense and realistic fashion,
United States v. Ventresca, 380 U.S. 102, 108. I conclude that the Steinman affidavits fully satisfied the Fourth Amendment requirements of probable cause and particularity in the issuance of search warrants.
The Court, however, seems irresistibly determined to strike down the New York statute. The majority criticizes the ex parte nature of § 813-a court orders, the lack of a requirement that "exigent circumstances" be shown, and the fact that one court order authorizes "a series or a continuous surveillance." But where are such search warrant requirements to be found in the Fourth Amendment or in any prior case construing it? The Court appears intent upon creating out of whole cloth new constitutionally mandated warrant procedures carefully tailored to make eavesdrop warrants unobtainable. That is not a judicial function. The question here is whether this search complied with Fourth Amendment standards. There is no indication in this record that the District Attorney's office seized and used conversations [p112] not described in the Goldstein affidavit, nor that officials continued the search after the time when they had gathered the evidence which they sought. Given the constitutional adequacy of the Goldstein affidavit in terms of Fourth Amendment requirements of probable cause and particularity, I conclude that both the search and seizure in Steinman's office satisfied Fourth Amendment mandates. Regardless of how the Court would like eavesdropping legislation to read, our function ends in a state case with the determination of these questions.
Unregulated use of electronic surveillance devices by law enforcement officials and by private parties poses a grave threat to the privacy and security of our citizens. As the majority recognizes, New York is one of a handful of States that have reacted to this threat by enacting legislation that limits official use of all such devices to situations where designated officers obtain judicial authorization to eavesdrop. Except in these States, there is a serious lack of comprehensive and sensible legislation in this field, a need that has been noted by many, including the President's prestigious Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice (the "Crime Commission") in its just-published reports. [n3] Bills have been introduced at this session of Congress to fill this legislative gap, and extensive hearings are in progress before the Subcommittee on Administrative Practice and Procedure of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, and before Subcommittee No. 5 of the House Committee on the Judiciary. [p113]
At least three positions have been presented at these hearings. Opponents of eavesdropping and wiretapping argue that they are so "odious" an invasion of privacy that they should never be tolerated. The Justice Department, in advocating the Administration's current position, asserts a more limited view; its bill would prohibit all wiretapping and eavesdropping by state and federal authorities except in cases involving the "national security," and in addition would ban judicial use of evidence gathered even in national security cases. S. 928 and H.R. 5386, 90th Cong., 1st Sess. Advocates of a third position, who include many New York law enforcement personnel and others, agree that official eavesdropping and wiretapping must be stringently controlled, but argue that such methods are irreplaceable investigative tools which are needed for the enforcement of criminal laws and which can be adequately regulated through legislation such as New York's § 813-a.
The grant of certiorari in this case has been widely noted, and our decision can be expected to have a substantial impact on the current legislative consideration of these issues. Today's majority does not, in so many words, hold that all wiretapping and eavesdropping are constitutionally impermissible. But, by transparent indirection, it achieves practically the same result by striking down the New York statute and imposing a series of requirements for legalized electronic surveillance that will be almost impossible to satisfy.
In so doing, the Court ignores or discounts the need for wiretapping authority, and incredibly suggests that there has been no breakdown of federal law enforcement despite the unavailability of a federal statute legalizing electronic surveillance. The Court thereby impliedly disagrees with the carefully documented reports of the Crime Commission which, contrary to the Court's intimations, underline the serious proportions of professional [p114] criminal activity in this country, the failure of current national and state efforts to eliminate it, and the need for a statute permitting carefully controlled official use of electronic surveillance, particularly in dealing with organized crime and official corruption. See Appendix A, infra; Report of the Crime Commission's Task Force on Organized Crime 17-19, 80, 91-113 (1967). How the Court can feel itself so much better qualified than the Commission, which spent months on its study, to assess the needs of law enforcement is beyond my comprehension. We have only just decided that reasonableness of a search under the Fourth Amendment must be determined by weighing the invasions of Fourth Amendment interests which wiretapping and eavesdropping entail against the public need justifying such invasions. Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523; See v. City of Seattle, 387 U.S. 541. In these terms, it would seem imperative that the Court at least deal with facts of the real world. This the Court utterly fails to do. In my view, its opinion is wholly unresponsive to the test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment.
The Court also seeks support in the fact that the Federal Government does not now condone electronic eavesdropping. But here the Court is treading on treacherous ground. [n4] It is true that the Department of Justice has now disowned the relevant findings and recommendations of the Crime Commission, see Hearings on H.R. 5386 before Subcommittee No. 5 of the House Committee on the Judiciary, 90th Cong., 1st Sess., ser. 3, at 308 (1967) (hereafter cited as "House Hearings"), [p115] and that it has recommended to the Congress a bill which would impose broad prohibitions on wiretapping and eavesdropping. But although the Department's communication to the Congress speaks of "exercis[ing] the full reach of our constitutional powers to outlaw electronic eavesdropping on private conversations," [n5] the fact is, as I have already indicated, that the bill does nothing of the kind. Both H.R. 5386 and its counterpart in the Senate, S. 928, provide that the prohibitions in the bill shall not be deemed to apply to interceptions in national security cases. Apparently, under this legislation, the President, without court order, would be permitted to authorize wiretapping or eavesdropping
to protect the Nation against actual or potential attack or other hostile acts of a foreign power or any other serious threat to the security of the United States, or to protect national security information against foreign intelligence activities.
H.R. 5386 and S. 928, § 3.
There are several interesting aspects to this proposed national security exemption in light of the Court's opinion. First, there is no limitation on the President's power to delegate his authority, and it seems likely that at least the Attorney General would exercise it. House Hearings at 302. Second, the national security exception would reach cases like sabotage and investigations of organizations controlled by a foreign government. For example, wiretapping to prove an individual is a member of the Communist Party, it is said, would be permissible under the statute. House Hearings at 292. Third, information from authorized surveillance in the national security area would not be admissible in evidence; to the contrary, the surveillance would apparently be for investigative and informational use only, not for [p116] use in a criminal prosecution and not authorized because of any belief or suspicion that a crime is being committed or is about to be committed. House Hearings at 289. Fourth, the Department of Justice has recommended that the Congress not await this Court's decision in the case now before us because, whether or not the Court upholds the New York statute, the power of Congress to enact the proposed legislation would not be affected. House Hearings at 308. But if electronic surveillance is a "general search," or if it must be circumscribed in the manner the Court now suggests, how can surreptitious electronic surveillance of a suspected Communist or a suspected saboteur escape the strictures of the Fourth Amendment? It seems obvious from the Department of Justice bill that the present Administration believes that there are some purposes and uses of electronic surveillance which do not involve violations of the Fourth Amendment by the Executive Branch. Such being the case, even if the views of the Executive were to be the final answer in this case, the requirements imposed by the Court to constitutionalize wiretapping and eavesdropping are a far cry from the practice anticipated under the proposed federal legislation now before the Congress.
But I do not think the views of the Executive should be dispositive of the broader Fourth Amendment issues raised in this case. If the security of the National Government is a sufficient interest to render eavesdropping reasonable, on what tenable basis can a contrary conclusion be reached when a State asserts a purpose to prevent the corruption of its major officials, to protect the integrity of its fundamental processes, and to maintain itself as a viable institution? The serious threat which organized crime poses to our society has been frequently documented. The interrelation between organized crime [p117] and corruption of governmental officials is likewise well established, [n6] and the enormous difficulty of eradicating both forms of social cancer is proved by the persistence of the problems, if by nothing else. The Crime Commission has concluded that
only in New York have law enforcement officials been able to mount a relatively continuous and relatively successful attack on an organized crime problem,
that "electronic surveillance techniques . . . have been the tools" making possible such an attack, and that practice under New York's § 813-a has achieved a proper balance between the interests of "privacy and justice." Task Force Report at 95. And New York County District Attorney Frank S. Hogan, who has been on the job almost as long as any member of this Court, has said of the need for legislation similar to § 813-a:
The judicially supervised system under which we operate has worked. It has served efficiently to protect the rights liberties, property, and general welfare of the law-abiding members of our community. It has permitted us to undertake major investigations of organized crime. Without it, and I confine myself to top figures in the underworld, my own office could not have convicted Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Jimmy Hines, Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, Jacob "Gurrah" Shapiro, Joseph "Socks" Lanza, George Scalise, Frank Erickson, John "Dio" Dioguardi, and Frank Carbo. Joseph "Adonis" Doto, [p118] who was tried in New Jersey, was convicted and deported on evidence supplied by our office and obtained by assiduously following leads secured through wiretapping.
Hearings on S. 2813 before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 87th Cong., 2d Sess., at 173 (1962). To rebut such evidence of the reasonableness of regulated use of official eavesdropping, the Court presents only outdated statistics on the use of § 813-a in the organized crime and corruption arenas, the failure of the Congress thus far to enact similar legislation for federal law enforcement officials, and the blind hope that other "techniques and practices may well be developed that will operate just as speedily and certainly." None of this is even remotely responsive to the question whether the use of eavesdropping techniques to unveil the debilitating corruption involved in this case was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. At best, the Court puts forth an apologetic and grossly inadequate justification for frustrating New York law enforcement by invalidating § 813-a.
In any event, I do not consider this case a proper vehicle for resolving all of these broad constitutional and legislative issues raised by the problem of official use of wiretapping and eavesdropping. I would hold only that electronic surveillance was a reasonable investigative tool to apply in uncovering corruption among high state officials, compare Osborn v. United States, 385 U.S. 323, that the § 813-a court procedure as used in this case satisfied the Fourth Amendment's search warrant requirements, and that New York officials limited themselves to a constitutionally permissible search and seizure of petitioner's private conversations in executing that court order. Therefore, I would affirm. [p119]APPENDIX TO OPINION OF MR. JUSTICE WHITE.
Excerpt from "The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society," A Report by the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, at 200-203 (1967).
A NATIONAL STRATEGY AGAINSTORGANIZED CRIME
Law enforcement's way of fighting organized crime has been primitive compared to organized crime's way of operating. Law enforcement must use methods at least as efficient as organized crime's. The public and law enforcement must make a full-scale commitment to destroy the power of organized crime groups. The Commission's program indicates ways to implement that commitment.
PROOF OF CRIMINAL VIOLATION
The previous section has described the difficulties that law enforcement agencies meet in trying to prove the participation of organized crime family members in criminal acts. Although earlier studies indicated a need for new substantive criminal laws, the Commission believes that, on the Federal level and in most State jurisdictions where organized crime exists, the major problem relates to matters of proof, rather than inadequacy of substantive criminal laws, as the latter -- for the most part -- are reasonably adequate to deal with organized crime activity. The laws of conspiracy have provided an effective substantive tool with which to confront the criminal groups. From a legal standpoint, organized crime continues to grow because of defects in the evidence-gathering process. Under present procedures, too few witnesses have been produced to prove the link between criminal group members and the illicit activities that they sponsor. [p120]
Grand Juries. A compulsory process is necessary to obtain essential testimony or material. This is most readily accomplished by an investigative grand jury or an alternate mechanism through which the attendance of witnesses and production of books and records can be ordered. Such grand juries must stay in session long enough to allow for the unusually long time required to build an organized crime case. The possibility of arbitrary termination of a grand jury by supervisory judges constitutes a danger to successful completion of an investigation.
The Commission recommends:
At least one investigative grand jury should be impaneled annually in each jurisdiction that has major organized crime activity.
If a grand jury shows the court that its business is unfinished at the end of a normal term, the court should extend that term a reasonable time in order to allow the grand jury to complete pending investigations. Judicial dismissal of grand juries with unfinished business should be appealable by the prosecutor and provision made for suspension of such dismissal orders during the appeal.
The automatic convening of these grand juries would force less than diligent investigators and prosecutors to explain their inaction. The grand jury should also have recourse when not satisfied with such explanations.
The Commission recommends:
The grand jury should have the statutory right of appeal to an appropriate executive official, such as an attorney general or governor, to replace local prosecutors or investigators with special counsel or special investigators appointed only in relation to matters that they or the grand jury deem appropriate for investigation. [p121]
When a grand jury terminates, it should be permitted by law to file public reports regarding organized crime conditions in the community.
Immunity. A general immunity statute as proposed in chapter 5 on the courts is essential in organized crime investigations and prosecutions. There is evidence to indicate that the availability of immunity can overcome the wall of silence that so often defeats the efforts of law enforcement to obtain live witnesses in organized crime cases. Since the activities of criminal groups involve such a broad scope of criminal violations, immunity provisions covering this breadth of illicit actions are necessary to secure the testimony of uncooperative or criminally involved witnesses. Once granted immunity from prosecution based upon their testimony, such witnesses must testify before the grand jury and at trial, or face jail for contempt of court.
Federal, State, and local coordination of immunity grants, and approval by the jurisdiction's chief law enforcement officer before immunity is granted, are crucial in organized crime investigations. Otherwise, without such coordination and approval, or through corruption of officials, one jurisdiction might grant immunity to someone about to be arrested or indicted in another jurisdiction.
The Commission recommends:
A general witness immunity statute should be enacted at Federal and State levels, providing immunity sufficiently broad to assure compulsion of testimony. Immunity should be granted only with the prior approval of the jurisdiction's chief prosecuting officer. Efforts to coordinate Federal, State, and local immunity grants should be made to prevent interference with existing investigations. [p122]
Perjury. Many prosecutors believe that the incidence of perjury is higher in organized crime cases than in routine criminal matters. Immunity can be an effective prosecutive weapon only if the immunized witness then testifies truthfully. The present special proof requirements in perjury cases, detailed in chapter 5, inhibit prosecutors from seeking perjury indictments and lead to much lower conviction rates for perjury than for other crimes. Lessening of rigid proof requirements in perjury prosecutions would strengthen the deterrent value of perjury laws and present a greater incentive for truthful testimony.
The Commission recommends:
Congress and the States should abolish the rigid two-witness and direct-evidence rules in perjury prosecutions, but retain the requirement of proving an intentional false statement.
WIRETAPPING AND EAVESDROPPING
In connection with the problems of securing evidence against organized crime, the Commission considered issues relating to electronic surveillance, including wiretapping and "bugging" -- the secret installation of mechanical devices at specific locations to receive and transmit conversations.
Significance to Law Enforcement. The great majority of law enforcement officials believe that the evidence necessary to bring criminal sanctions to bear consistently on the higher echelons of organized crime will not be obtained without the aid of electronic surveillance techniques. They maintain these techniques are indispensable to develop adequate strategic intelligence concerning organized crime, to set up specific investigations, to develop witnesses, to corroborate their testimony, and to serve as substitutes for them -- each a necessary step in [p123] the evidence-gathering process in organized crime investigations and prosecutions.
As previously noted, the organizational structure and operational methods employed by organized crime have created unique problems for law enforcement. High-ranking organized crime figures are protected by layers of insulation from direct participation in criminal acts, and a rigid code of discipline inhibits the development of informants against them. A soldier in a family can complete his entire crime career without ever associating directly with his boss. Thus, he is unable, even if willing, to link the boss directly to any criminal activity in which he may have engaged for their mutual benefit. Agents and employees of an organized crime family, even when granted immunity from prosecution, cannot implicate the highest level figures, since frequently they have neither spoken to nor even seen them.
Members of the underworld, who have legitimate reason to fear that their meetings might be bugged or their telephones tapped, have continued to meet and to make relatively free use of the telephone -- for communication is essential to the operation of any business enterprise. In legitimate business this is accomplished with written and oral exchanges. In organized crime enterprises, however, the possibility of loss or seizure of an incriminating document demands a minimum of written communication. Because of the varied character of organized criminal enterprises, the large numbers of persons employed in them, and frequently the distances separating elements of the organization, the telephone remains an essential vehicle for communication. While discussions of business matters are held on a face-to-face basis whenever possible, they are never conducted in the presence of strangers. Thus, the content of these conversations, including the planning of new illegal activity, and transmission of policy decisions or operating instructions [p124] for existing enterprises, cannot be detected. The extreme scrutiny to which potential members are subjected and the necessity for them to engage in criminal activity have precluded law enforcement infiltration of organized crime groups.
District Attorney Frank S. Hogan, whose New York County office has been acknowledged for over 27 years as one of the country's most outstanding, has testified that electronic surveillance is:
the single most valuable weapon in law enforcement's fight against organized crime . . . It has permitted us to undertake major investigations of organized crime. Without it, and I confine myself to top figures in the underworld, my own office could not have convicted Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Jimmy Hines, Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, Jacob "Gurrah" Shapiro, Joseph "Socks" Lanza, George Scalise, Frank Erickson, John "Dio" Dioguardi, and Frank Carbo. . . .
Over the years, New York has faced one of the Nation's most aggravated organized crime problems. Only in New York have law enforcement officials achieved some level of continuous success in bringing prosecutions against organized crime. For over 20 years, New York has authorized wiretapping on court order. Since 1957, bugging has been similarly authorized. Wiretapping was the mainstay of the New York attack against organized crime until Federal court decisions intervened. Recently, chief reliance in some offices has been placed on bugging, where the information is to be used in court. Law enforcement officials believe that the successes achieved in some parts of the State are attributable primarily to a combination of dedicated and competent personnel and adequate legal tools, and that the failure to do more in New York has resulted primarily from the failure to commit additional resources of time and men. The [p125] debilitating effect of corruption, political influence, and incompetence, underscored by the New York State Commission of Investigation, must also be noted.
In New York at one time, Court supervision of law enforcement's use of electronic surveillance was sometimes perfunctory, but the picture has changed substantially under the impact of pretrial adversary hearings on motions to suppress electronically seized evidence. Fifteen years ago, there was evidence of abuse by low-rank policemen. Legislative and administrative controls, however, have apparently been successful in curtailing its incidence.
The Threat to Privacy. In a democratic society, privacy of communication is essential if citizens are to think and act creatively and constructively. Fear or suspicion that one's speech is being monitored by a stranger, even without the reality of such activity, can have a seriously inhibiting effect upon the willingness to voice critical and constructive ideas. When dissent from the popular view is discouraged, intellectual controversy is smothered, the process for testing new concepts and ideas is hindered and desirable change is slowed. External restraints, of which electronic surveillance is but one possibility, are thus repugnant to citizens of such a society.
Today, in addition to some law enforcement agents, numerous private persons are utilizing these techniques. They are employed to acquire evidence for domestic relations cases, to carry on industrial espionage and counterespionage, to assist in preparing for civil litigation, and for personnel investigations, among others. Technological advances have produced remarkably sophisticated devices, of which the electronic cocktail olive is illustrative, and continuing price reductions have expanded their markets. Nor has man's ingenuity in the development of surveillance equipment been exhausted with the design [p126] and manufacture of electronic devices for wiretapping or for eavesdropping within buildings or vehicles. Parabolic microphones that pick up conversations held in the open at distances of hundreds of feet are available commercially, and some progress has been made toward utilizing the laser beam to pick up conversations within a room by focusing upon the glass of a convenient window. Progress in microminiaturizing electronic components has resulted in the production of equipment of extremely small size. Because it can detect what is said anywhere -- not just on the telephone -- bugging presents especially serious threats to privacy.
Detection of surveillance devices is difficult, particularly where an installation is accomplished by a skilled agent. Isolated instances where equipment is discovered in operation therefore do not adequately reflect the volume of such activity; the effectiveness of electronic surveillance depends in part upon investigators who do not discuss their activities. The current confusion over the legality of electronic surveillance compounds the assessment problem, since many agents feel their conduct may be held unlawful, and are unwilling to report their activities. It is presently impossible to estimate with any accuracy the volume of electronic surveillance conducted today. The Commission is impressed, however, with the opinions of knowledgeable persons that the incidence of electronic surveillance is already substantial, and increasing at a rapid rate.
Present Law and Practice. In 1928, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that evidence obtained by wiretapping a defendant's telephone at a point outside the defendant's premises was admissible in a Federal criminal prosecution. The Court found no unconstitutional search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Enactment of Section 605 of the Federal Communications Act in 1934 [p127] precluded interception and disclosure of wire communications. The Department of Justice has interpreted this section to permit interception so long as no disclosure of the content outside the Department is made. Thus, wiretapping may presently be conducted by a Federal agent, but the results may not be used in court. When police officers wiretap and disclose the information obtained, in accordance with State procedure, they are in violation of Federal law.
Law enforcement experience with bugging has been much more recent and more limited than the use of the traditional wiretap. The legal situation with respect to bugging is also different. The regulation of the national telephone communication network falls within recognized national powers, while legislation attempting to authorize the placing of electronic equipment even under a warrant system would break new and uncharted ground. At the present time, there is no Federal legislation explicitly dealing with bugging. Since the decision of the Supreme Court in Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505 (1961), use of bugging equipment that involves an unauthorized physical entry into a constitutionally protected private area violates the Fourth Amendment, and evidence thus obtained is inadmissible. If eavesdropping is unaccompanied by such a trespass, or if the communication is recorded with the consent of one of the parties, no such prohibition applies.
The confusion that has arisen inhibits cooperation between State and Federal law enforcement agencies because of the fear that information secured in one investigation will legally pollute another. For example, in New York City prosecutors refuse to divulge the contents of wire communications intercepted pursuant to State court orders because of the Federal proscription, but do utilize evidence obtained by bugging pursuant [p128] to court order. In other sections of New York State, however, prosecutors continue to introduce both wiretapping and eavesdropping evidence at trial.
Despite the clear Federal prohibition against disclosure of wiretap information, no Federal prosecutions of State officers have been undertaken, although prosecutions of State officers under State laws have occurred.
One of the most serious consequences of the present state of the law is that private parties and some law enforcement officers are invading the privacy of many citizens without control from the courts and reasonable legislative standards. While the Federal prohibition is a partial deterrent against divulgence, it has no effect on interception, and the lack of prosecutive action against violators has substantially reduced respect for the law.
The present status of the law with respect to wiretapping and bugging is intolerable. It serves the interests neither of privacy nor of law enforcement. One way or the other, the present controversy with respect to electronic surveillance must be resolved.
The Commission recommends:
Congress should enact legislation dealing specifically with wiretapping and bugging.
All members of the Commission agree on the difficulty of striking the balance between law enforcement benefits from the use of electronic surveillance and the threat to privacy its use may entail. Further, striking this balance presents important constitutional questions now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court in People v. Berger, and any congressional action should await the outcome of that case.
All members of the Commission believe that, if authority to employ these techniques is granted, it must be granted only with stringent limitations. One form of detailed regulatory statute that has been suggested to [p129] the Commission is outlined in the appendix to the Commission's organized crime task force volume. All private use of electronic surveillance should be placed under rigid control, or it should be outlawed.
A majority of the members of the Commission believe that legislation should be enacted granting carefully circumscribed authority for electronic surveillance to law enforcement officers to the extent it may be consistent with the decision of the Supreme Court in People v. Berger, and, further, that the availability of such specific authority would significantly reduce the incentive for, and the incidence of, improper electronic surveillance.
The other members of the Commission have serious doubts about the desirability of such authority, and believe that, without the kind of searching inquiry that would result from further congressional consideration of electronic surveillance, particularly of the problems of bugging, there is insufficient basis to strike this balance against the interests of privacy.
Matters affecting the national security not involving criminal prosecution are outside the Commission's mandate, and nothing in this discussion is intended to affect the existing powers to protect that interest.
1. Recording an innocent conversation is no more a "seizure" than occurs when the policeman personally overhears conversation while conducting a search with a warrant.
2. Petitioner has not included a transcript of the Neyer recording in the record before this Court. In an oral statement during the hearing on petitioner's motion to suppress eavesdrop evidence, the prosecutor stated:
In the course of some of these conversations [recorded by the Neyer eavesdrop], we have one-half of a telephone call, of several telephone calls between Mr. Neyer and a person he refers to on the telephone as Mr. Berger, and in the conversation with Mr. Berger, Mr. Neyer discusses also the obtaining of a liquor license for the Palladium and mentions the fact that this is going to be a big one.
R. at 27. Petitioner made no argument, and offered no evidence, at the suppression hearing that the alleged Neyer-Berger phone conversation provided the State with evidence that was used to secure the Steinman eavesdrop order.
3. The portion of the Crime Commission's report dealing with wiretapping and eavesdropping is reproduced in Appendix A to this opinion. A more detailed explanation of why most Commission members favored legislation permitting controlled use of electronic surveillance for law enforcement purposes can be found in the Commission's Task Force Report on Organized Crime, cited infra.
4. The Court should draw no support from the Solicitor General's confession of error in recent cases, for they involved surreptitious eavesdropping by federal officers without judicial authorization. Such searches are clearly invalid because they violate the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirements. Silverman v. United States, supra.
5. Letter from the Acting Attorney General to the Speaker of the House of Representatives submitting the Administration's "Right of Privacy Act of 1967" (H.R. 5386), Feb. 8, 1967.
All available data indicate that organized crime flourishes only where it has corrupted local officials. As the scope and variety of organized crime's activities have expanded, its need to involve public officials at every level of local government has grown. And as government regulation expands into more and more areas of private and business activity, the power to corrupt likewise affords the corrupter more control over matters affecting the everyday life of each citizen.