Browse Definitions:
Definition

wiretapping

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Wiretapping is the surreptitious electronic monitoring of telephone, telegraph, cellular, fax or Internet-based communications.

Wiretapping is achieved either through the placement of a monitoring device informally known as a bug on the wire in question or through built-in mechanisms in other communication technologies. Enforcement officials may tap into either for live monitoring or recording. Packet sniffers -- programs used to capture data being transmitted on a network – are a commonly-used modern-day wiretapping tool. A variety of other tools, such as wiretap Trojans, are used for different applications. 

The history of wiretapping:
Wiretapping laws have always had difficulty in balancing privacy rights of individuals with the concerns of state and law enforcement. While wiretapping has existed since the days of the telegraph, the first recorded wiretapping by law enforcement was in the 1890s in New York City. In the 1910s, the New York State Department found that police had wiretapped entire hotels without warrant. The department claimed it did not violate Fourth Amendment rights, on the grounds that the amendment only covers tangible communications, such as mail, and that it only breached those rights where placing of taps involved trespassing. (That restriction was no block to enforcement, as officials could tap a telephone company’s switching station.)

The exemption of intangibles from the fourth amendment was upheld with the conviction of Roy Olmstead -- a former prohibition police officer turned multimillionaire bootlegger -- in 1925. However, the case had gone to the ninth circuit court of appeals. Justice Frank H. Rudkin strongly fought for the requirement of a warrant for wiretapping, claiming the distinction between written messages and telephone was tenuous and that letter, telephone and telegraph were equally sealed from the general public and deserved the same protections. Justice Louis Brandeis also contested the allowance of wiretaps without warrant, stating that the Fourth Amendment is not about defining physical space but the rights of the individual. Nevertheless, unwarranted wiretaps became admissible in 1928. The debate continued until 1968 when the Crime Control and Safe Streets Act mandated the requirement of probable cause and, for individual warrants, the requirement that the monitored party must be notified after the conclusion of the investigation.

Modern-day wiretapping:
The argument that new technologies are not covered by the law is often used to justify increased monitoring of private citizens. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), despite its name, loosened the requirements for non-voice based communications, and the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) of 1994 allowed law enforcement to fine telcos $10,000 a day if the company’s networks are not built with wiretapping capabilities.

Concerns have been raised by the National Security Agency’s (NSA) monitoring of private citizen communications since it was revealed that they have been wiretapping on a broad scale without even a stated justification. Concerns are often dismissed because only metadata is collected, rather than the content of messages, but even that data can be extremely revealing. An increasing number of technological hardware and software systems are designed or adapted to include wiretapping capabilities, including IPv6, which is expected to expand the number of Internet-connected devices exponentially.

Susan Landau explains the risks of new wiretapping technologies:

See also: eavesdropping

 

This was last updated in May 2014

Continue Reading About wiretapping

Start the conversation

Send me notifications when other members comment.

By submitting you agree to receive email from TechTarget and its partners. If you reside outside of the United States, you consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States. Privacy

Please create a username to comment.

-ADS BY GOOGLE

File Extensions and File Formats

SearchCompliance

  • smart contract

    A smart contract, also known as a cryptocontract, is a computer program that directly controls the transfer of digital currencies...

  • risk map (risk heat map)

    A risk map, also known as a risk heat map, is a data visualization tool for communicating specific risks an organization faces. A...

  • internal audit (IA)

    An internal audit (IA) is an organizational initiative to monitor and analyze its own business operations in order to determine ...

SearchSecurity

  • evil maid attack

    An evil maid attack is a security exploit that targets a computing device that has been shut down and left unattended.  An evil ...

  • Common Body of Knowledge (CBK)

    In security, Common Body of Knowledge (CBK) is a comprehensive framework of all the relevant subjects a security professional ...

  • rootkit

    A rootkit is a program or, more often, a collection of software tools that gives a threat actor remote access to and control over...

SearchHealthIT

  • value-based healthcare

    Value-based healthcare, also known as value-based care, is a payment model that rewards healthcare providers for providing ...

  • health informatics

    Health informatics is the practice of acquiring, studying and managing health data and applying medical concepts in conjunction ...

  • clinical trial

    A clinical trial, also known as a clinical research study, is a protocol to evaluate the effects and efficacy of experimental ...

SearchDisasterRecovery

  • crisis communication

    Crisis communication is a method of corresponding with people and organizations during a disruptive event to provide them with ...

  • Zerto

    Zerto is a storage software vendor that specializes in enterprise-class business continuity and disaster recovery in virtual and ...

  • crisis management plan (CMP)

    A crisis management plan (CMP) is a document that outlines the processes an organization will use to respond to a critical ...

SearchStorage

  • SSD write cycle

    An SSD write cycle is the process of programming data to a NAND flash memory chip in a solid-state storage device.

  • data storage

    Data storage is the collective methods and technologies that capture and retain digital information on electromagnetic, optical ...

  • hard disk

    A hard disk is part of a unit -- often called a disk drive, hard drive or hard disk drive -- that stores and provides relatively ...

SearchSolidStateStorage

  • hybrid hard disk drive (HDD)

    A hybrid hard disk drive is an electromechanical spinning hard disk that contains some amount of NAND Flash memory.

Close