Electronic Surveillance

views updated Jun 27 2018


Observing or listening to persons, places, or activities—usually in a secretive or unobtrusive manner—with the aid of electronic devices such as cameras, microphones, tape recorders, or wire taps. The objective of electronic surveillance when used in law enforcement is to gather evidence of a crime or to accumulate intelligence about suspected criminal activity. Corporations use electronic surveillance to maintain the security of their buildings and grounds or to gather information about competitors.

Electronic surveillance permeates almost every aspect of life in the United States. In the public sector, the president, Congress, judiciary, military, and law enforcement all use some form of this technology. In the private sector, business competitors, convenience stores, shopping centers, apartment buildings, parking facilities, hospitals, banks, employers, and spouses have employed various methods of electronic eavesdropping. Litigation has even arisen from covert surveillance of restrooms.

Three types of electronic surveillance are most prevalent: wire tapping, bugging, and videotaping. Wire tapping intercepts telephone calls and telegraph messages by physically penetrating the wire circuitry. Someone must actually "tap" into telephone or telegraph wires to accomplish this type of surveillance. Bugging is accomplished without the aid of telephone wires, usually by placing a small microphone or other listening device in one location to transmit conversations to a nearby receiver and recorder. Video surveillance is performed by conspicuous or hidden cameras that transmit and record visual images that may be watched simultaneously or reviewed later on tape.

Electronic eavesdropping serves several purposes: (1) enhancement of security for persons and property; (2) detection and prevention of criminal, wrongful, or impermissible activity; and (3) interception, protection, or appropriation of valuable, useful, scandalous, embarrassing, and discrediting information. The law attempts to strike a balance between the need for electronic surveillance and the privacy interests of those affected.

Constitutional Law

The fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." It further provides that "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Electronic surveillance did not exist in 1789, when this amendment was written and was probably not contemplated by the Founding Fathers. But the colonists were familiar with unbridled methods of law enforcement. British officials conducted warrantless searches and seizures, and made arrests based on mere suspicion. Even when a search was made pursuant to a warrant, the warrant was often general in nature, vesting British officials with absolute discretion to determine the scope and duration of the search.

The Fourth Amendment was carefully drafted in response to this colonial experience. It provides two basic protections. First, it prohibits government officials, or persons acting under color of law, from performing unreasonable searches and seizures. Second, it forbids magistrates from issuing warrants that are not supported by probable cause or that fail to specify the persons, places, and things subject to search and seizure. The Supreme Court has held that searches performed without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable. When a search is presumptively unreasonable, evidence seized by the police during the search will not be admissible against the defendant at trial unless the prosecution demonstrates that the evidence seized falls within an exception to the warrant requirement such as the "good faith" exception.

The Supreme Court first considered the Fourth Amendment implications of electronic surveillance in olmstead v. united states, 277 U.S. 438, 48 S. Ct. 564, 72 L. Ed. 944 (1928). In Olmstead, federal agents intercepted incriminating conversations by tapping the telephone wires outside the defendant's home without a warrant or his consent. In a 5 to 4 decision, the Court ruled that electronic eavesdropping involves neither a search nor a seizure, within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The Court reasoned that no search took place in Olmstead because the government intercepted the conversations without entering the defendant's home or office and thus without examining any "place." No seizure occurred because the intercepted conversations were not the sort of tangible "things" the Court believed were protected by the Fourth Amendment. In a prescient dissent, Justice louis d. brandeis argued that nonconsensual, warrantless eavesdropping offends Fourth Amendment privacy interests without regard to manner or place of surveillance.

The Supreme Court whittled away at the Olmstead holding for the next forty years, finally overruling it in Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 88 S. Ct. 507, 19 L. Ed. 2d 576 (1967). In Katz, the police attached a listening device to the outside of a public telephone booth where the defendant was later recorded making inculpatory statements. The Court declared this type of warrantless surveillance unconstitutional. The Court emphasized that the Fourth Amendment protects persons, not places, and held that the amendment's protections extend to any place where an individual maintains a reasonable expectation of privacy. The Court determined that in Katz, the defendant maintained a reasonable expectation of privacy in both the particular conversation he had and the public telephone booth where it took place. Katz made government electronic surveillance, and legislation authorizing it, subject to the strictures of the Fourth Amendment.

As technology continues to develop, the Court has had to consider new methods of investigation by law enforcement officials. In Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27, 121 S. Ct. 2035, 150 L. Ed. 2d 94 (2001), the Court considered the constitutionality of the use of a thermal imaging device during surveillance of a home. An agent of the U.S. interior department suspected that the defendant, Danny Kyllo, was growing marijuana in his home. The officer knew that indoor marijuana growth requires use of high-intensity lamps, and the officer sought to discover the presence of these lamps through the use of the thermal imaging device. The device demonstrated that the defendant was likely using a high-intensity lamp, and the agent then sought a search warrant from a federal magistrate judge. A subsequent search of the home discovered marijuana.

The Supreme Court, per Justice antonin scalia, found that the use of the device to survey the inside of the defendants home constituted a "search" for Fourth Amendment purposes. The government argued that because the device only sensed heat emanating from the exterior of the house, use of the device was not an unlawful intrusion on the defendant. Scalia disagreed, noting that Katz forbids a mechanical application of the Fourth Amendment that focuses only upon the physical capability of a surveillance device. He noted, "Reversing that approach [in Katz] would leave the homeowner at the mercy of advancing technology—including imaging technology that could discern all human activity in the home." Because the agent had not obtained a warrant until after he conducted a search of Kyllo's home, the search violated Kyllo's Fourth Amendment rights.


One year after Katz, Congress enacted the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (Pub. L. 90-351, June 19, 1968, 82 Stat. 197; Pub. L. 90-462, § 1, Aug. 8, 1968, 82 Stat. 638; Pub. L. 90-618, Title III, Oct. 22, 1968, 82 Stat. 1236). Title III of the act governs the interception of wire and oral communications in both the public and private sectors. Electronic surveillance is used in the public sector as a tool of criminal investigation by law enforcement, and in the private sector as a means to obtain or protect valuable or discrediting information. Many of the fifty states have enacted legislation similar to Title III.

Public Sector Title III outlines detailed procedures the federal government must follow before conducting electronic surveillance. Pursuant to authorization by the attorney general or a specially designated assistant, federal law enforcement agents must make a sworn written application to a federal judge specifically describing the location where the communications will be intercepted, the reasons for the interception, the duration of the surveillance, and the identity of any persons whose conversations will be monitored. The application must also explain whether less intrusive investigative techniques have been tried. Electronic surveillance may not be used as a first step in criminal investigation when less intrusive means are likely to succeed without creating a significant danger to law enforcement personnel or the public.

A federal judge must then review the surveillance application to ensure that it satisfies each of the statutory requirements and establishes probable cause. The surveillance must be executed as soon as practicable, terminate after fulfillment of its objective, and in no event last longer than thirty days without further judicial approval. Federal agents must also take steps to minimize the interception of communications not relevant to the investigation. Evidence obtained in violation of Title III or of the Fourth Amendment is generally not admissible in court and may give rise to civil and criminal penalties.

Courts have interpreted Title III to cover information intercepted from satellite unscrambling devices, cellular telephones, and pagers. However, Title III does not cover information intercepted from pen registers, which record the telephone numbers of outgoing calls, or caller identification, which displays the telephone numbers of incoming calls, because neither intercepts conversations of any sort. Although Title III does not regulate photographic interception, some federal courts have used it as a guide when reviewing the constitutionality of video surveillance.

The procedural requirements of Title III are not without exception. Where there are exigent circumstances involving conspiratorial activities that threaten national security, Title III permits federal law enforcement agents to conduct electronic surveillance for up to forty-eight hours before seeking judicial approval. At one time, many observers believed that Title III also sanctions warrantless electronic surveillance by the executive branch for national security purposes. In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled to the contrary, holding that presidential surveillance of domestic organizations suspected of national security breaches during the Nixon administration had to comply with the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement (United States v. United States District Court for Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division, 407 U.S. 297, 92 S. Ct. 2125, 32 L. Ed. 2d 752).

Congress attempted to clarify the murky area of covert presidential surveillance by passing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), Pub. L. 95-511, Oct. 25, 1978, 92 Stat. 1783. FISA regulates the federal government's surveillance of foreign officials, emissaries, and agents within the United States, but has no application to such surveillance abroad. Similar to Title III, FISA sets forth specific application procedures that a federal judge must review for probable cause before any form of eavesdropping may commence. Unlike Title III, FISA has been interpreted to govern video surveillance as well.

Private Sector Electronic surveillance is most common in two areas of the private sector: employment and domestic relations. In addition to legislation in many of the fifty states, Title III governs these areas as well. It prohibits any person from intentionally using or disclosing information knowingly intercepted by electronic surveillance, without the consent of the interested parties. The intent element may be satisfied if the person knew or had reason to know that the information intercepted or disclosed was acquired by electronic surveillance; it is not satisfied if the person inadvertently intercepted or disclosed such information.

Sixty-eight percent of all reported wiretapping involves divorce cases and custody battles. Spouses, attempting to obtain embarrassing or discrediting information against each other, have planted video recording and listening devices throughout the marital home. Spousal surveillance most commonly involves telephone taps and bedroom bugs but has also included videotaping of activities as innocuous as grocery shopping and movie-going. The fruits of interspousal electronic eavesdropping have been offered in court to reveal extramarital affairs, illegal drug use, and other criminal or deviant activity.

If interspousal surveillance is the most pervasive form of electronic eavesdropping, employer surveillance is the fastest growing. Employers videotape employee movement throughout the workplace, search employee computer files, and monitor employee phone calls. Reasons for such surveillance range from deterring theft and evaluating performance to protecting trade secrets.

The advent of electronic mail (e-mail) has provided employers with a new playground for mechanical snooping. By the year 2000, 40 million people were expected to send 60 billion pieces of e-mail correspondence annually. As with telephone calls, employees may send personal messages while they are at work. Although Congress considered the surveillance of workplace e-mail when it broadened Title III protections in 1986, no federal court as of 2003 had confronted the issue. However, courts have permitted employers to eavesdrop surreptitiously on employee phone calls for legitimate and significant business purposes, and courts may also apply this rationale to employer surveillance of e-mail.

Common Law

State common law provides a third avenue of legal protection against electronic surveillance. Throughout the twentieth century, common law increasingly recognized a sphere of private activity beyond public consumption. The sometimes-amorphous right to privacy consists of three discrete interests: secrecy, seclusion, and autonomy. The right to secrecy prevents nonconsensual public disclosure of valuable, confidential, embarrassing, or discrediting information. The right to seclusion creates a realm of personal solitude upon which society may not trammel. The right to autonomy represents the freedom to determine one's own fate unfettered by polemical publicity.

Common law protects these distinct privacy interests by imposing civil liability upon anyone who publicizes private facts; besmirches some-one's reputation; profits from another's name, likeness, or ideas; or otherwise intrudes upon an individual's private affairs. Common-law protection of privacy interests is broader than Title III because it is not limited to wiretapping and bugging but extends to photographic and video surveillance as well. Thus, video surveillance of restrooms, locker rooms, and dressing rooms may give rise to a claim for invasion of privacy under common law but not under Title III.

At the same time, common law is narrower than Title III because liability is only established by proof that the published information was sufficiently private to cause outrage, mental suffering, shame, or humiliation in a person of ordinary sensibilities. Title III creates liability for any nonconsensual, intentional disclosure of electronically intercepted information, thus establishing a much lower threshold. For example, a newspaper would not be liable under the common-law invasion-of-privacy doctrine for accurately reporting that someone had engaged in criminal conduct. However, the nonconsensual, electronic interception of such information would give rise to liability under Title III.

further readings

Cavico, Frank J. 1993. "Invasion of Privacy in the Private Employment Sector: Tortious and Ethical Aspects." Houston Law Review 30.

Flanagan, Julie A. 1994. "Restricting Electronic Monitoring in the Private Workplace." Duke Law Journal 43.

LaFave, Wayne R., and Jerold H. Israel. 1985. Criminal Procedure. St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing.

Lee, Laurie Thomas. 1994. "Watch Your E-mail! Employee E-mail Monitoring and Privacy Law in the Age of the 'Electronic Sweatshop.'" John Marshall Law Review 28.

Levy, Leonard. 1988. Original Intent and the Framers' Constitution. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co.

Posner, Richard. 1981. The Economics of Justice. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Sheffer, Martin S. 1989. "Nixon, Mitchell, and Warrantless Wiretaps: A Presidential Attempt to Suspend the Fourth Amendment." Ohio Northern University Law Review 16.

Staples, William G. 2000. Everyday Surveillance: Vigilance and Visibility in Postmodern Life. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.

Subcommittee on the District of Columbia, House Committee on Government Reform. 2002. Privacy vs. Security: Electronic Surveillance in the Nation's Capital. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.


Criminal Law; Criminal Procedure; Exclusionary Rule; Search Warrant.

Internet Surveillance

views updated Jun 08 2018

Internet Surveillance


Internet surveillance is the monitoring of Internet data traffic for information useful to government authorities.

Targeted content may be illegal (e.g., child pornography), politically suspect (e.g., human-rights websites accessed by citizens living under authoritarian regimes), or evidential (e.g., e-mails or voice messages exchanged by suspects). Because the volume of information passing through the Internet is large, Internet surveillance generally requires a software component that scans for selected patterns of text, speech, addressing, or usage, and which flags items of interest for inspection by a human operator. Countermeasures against Internet surveillance include avoidance of the Internet as a means of communication, the establishment of Internet aliases that conceal users' identities, and encryption.

Levels of Internet surveillance. Internet surveillance may target individuals, local networks, or Internet traffic in bulk. Surveillance of individual users (or, rather, of individual electronic addresses, which may actually have more than one user) is analogous to traditional telephone wiretapping: a law-enforcement agency, intelligence agency, or other surveillant first gains physical access to one or more computers through which the Internet traffic of a suspect party passes. Using specialized hardware and software, the surveillant then scans all data traffic passing to and from the targeted party. Some or all of that traffic may be recorded by the surveillant for later use. All transmissions, recorded or not, are allowed to continue on to their intended destinations so that the surveillance remains secret.

Surveillance systems have been proposed recently that would scan Internet content and usage patterns in bulk, not user-by-user. For example, in December 2002 the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board released a report entitled "The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace" (http://www.whitehouse.gov/pcipb/). This report urged the creation of a centralized computer system to monitor the Internet. Such monitoring might, the paper said, be restricted to the analysis of network usage patterns (e.g., a wave of e-mails possibly indicating the spread of a new computer virus via the Internet), rather than being empowered to examine message content. Non-content information that might be gleaned by such a surveillance system includes the source and destination addresses of e-mails, the electronic addresses of websites visited by various persons, or the electronic addresses of persons visiting various websites. However, it would probably be impractical to build a high-level monitoring system that did not provide, at least potentially, access to individual users' information.

Uses and abuses. Many governments are interested in Internet surveillance, whether to fight crime and terrorism, monitor the political speech of their citizens, or both. For example, immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the British government asked British Internet service providers (ISPs) to temporarily record all their users' Internet traffic, hoping that clues to the attacks might be preserved. Various authoritarian governments block access to certain websites or spy on users to enforce political conformity, including the governments of Laos, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. China monitors public Internet use for political keywords such as "June 4" (the date of the 1989 prodemocracy protests in Tiananmen Square, which the Chinese government violently suppressed), and maintains "public security bureaus" around the country to monitor Internet traffic. As of February 2003, China has jailed at least 33 people for forbidden Internet use of a political nature, including downloading of articles from foreign pro-democracy websites. In the U.S. and many other countries it is illegal for the government to spy on citizens' nonviolent political activities, whether via Internet surveillance or by other means; however, there is evidence that these laws have been tested in the past and, some experts argue, might be broken even more readily using powerful, impossible-to-detect Internet surveillance tools such as are already in use or technically feasible. The topic of Internet surveillance is thus fraught with political controversy.

In 2002, for example, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)the same branch of the Pentagon that created the beginnings of the Internetproposed an ambitious Internet surveillance system termed Total Information Awareness (TIA). TIA would, according to DARPA, not only allow access to the content of virtually the whole Internet, but would enable the government to integrate that information with data gained by virtually any other means: wiretaps, criminal and other public records, on-line shopping habits, credit-card use, auto-mated tollbooth data, cell-phone calling records, and so on. TIA bids for information omniscience.

However, the TIA proposal met instant protest from across the political spectrum, and in January 2003 the U.S. Senate voted restrictions on its development and deployment. Development of TIA cannot, the Senate has said, continue unless the president certifies that halting it "would endanger the national security of the United States." (As of this writing, the president has not yet made any such certification.) The political future of TIA is therefore doubtful; there is, however, little doubt about its technical feasibility.

In a similar vein, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), whose official mission is eavesdropping on communications outside the U.S. and across its borders and which has a bigger budget than the Central Intelligence Agency, is thought by some analysts to already have a system ("Echelon") that can scan Internet message traffic for nonencrypted keywords. Since other governments certainly possess such software, there cannot be any technical obstacles to its development by the NSA; however, as of February 2003 the existence of Echelon remains unconfirmed.

In the meantime, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) routinely employs the Carnivore program for Internet surveillance of individuals. Carnivore, whose use has been publicly acknowledged by the FBI since June 2000, is classified as a "high-speed packet sniffer" (a term explained below). It is part of a larger surveillance toolbox called the Dragonware Suite. Dragonware is comprised of three software tools: Carnivore, Packeteer, and Coolminer. No public information about Packeteer and Coolminer is available, but some experts assert that these programs organize the information collected by Carnivore and analyze it for various patterns (probably under the guidance of human users).

What "Carnivore" does. Binary information streaming over the Internet is organized into "packets." Each packet is a collection of bits containing both message content and information about where it has come from and where it is going to. Data to be transmitted over the Internet are thus not sent as a continuous stream of 1s and 0s over dedicated channels, but as a blizzard of tiny, independent messages (packets) that may follow different paths to their final destination. They are reassembled at the receiving party's ISP before final transmission to the user over a dedicated line (e.g., a telephone line). A packet sniffer examines ("sniffs") every packet being handled by an ISP to see if its source or destination are on a target list of electronic addresses. The packet sniffer may be set either to simply record all packets meeting these criteria or to further examine each packet to see if its content matches court-mandated search guidelines (e.g., mention of bombs, drugs, insider trading). If a packet's content does not match search-order guidelines, it is not recorded. Alternatively, the packet sniffer may ignore content altogether, recording only routing information (source and destination addresses).

Use of Carnivore is governed by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1994 (ECPA) and by the federal law governing wiretaps, the Wire and Electronic Communications Interception and Interception of Oral Communications Act (also known as Title III). These laws state that officials need to obtain a search warrant from a court in order to look at stored digital data such as e-mails held in memory by an ISP or the contents of a user's hard drive. They also state that a court order must be obtained before a program such as Carnivore can be used to monitor communications in real time (e-mails in transit, for example). There are several kinds of court orders authorizing Internet surveillance, each allowing different information to be collected: (1) a content wiretap allows the recording of all information in packets that meet certain criteria (e.g., mention of a specific activity or person); (2) a trap-and-trace wiretap allows the FBI only to record information about destinations and websites visited, not content; (3) a pen register wiretap, like a trap-and-trace in reverse, determines where e-mail received by the suspect party has come from, what the electronic addresses are of parties that access the suspect's website, and so forth. Again, a pen register wiretap is not authorized to record content.

Controversy. Like almost any technical tool, Internet surveillance can be used for both legitimate and illegitimate purposes. Unfortunately, all official organizations, in all countries, declare that they are legitimate and that the individuals they surveil are dangerous criminals. In the U.S., the FBI and DARPA defend Internet surveillance tools like Carnivore and TIA by pointing out that they are only supposed to be used as authorized by a federal court (in the case of Carnivore) or to preserve national security (in the case of the proposed TIA program). According to the FBI, "The ability of law enforcement agencies to conduct lawful electronic surveillance of the communications of its criminal subjects represents one of the most important capabilities for acquiring evidence to prevent serious criminal behavior." John Poindexter, head of the Information Awareness Office (part of DARPA), which is developing TIA, says that the U.S. needs TIA because "[w]e must be able to detect, classify, identify, and track terrorists so that we may understand their plans and act to prevent them from being executed."

Critics such as the American Civil Liberties Union argue that what the FBI and the intelligence agencies are supposed to do is not always the same as what they have done; there is a long public record of potentially illegal political surveillance of U.S. citizens by U.S. police and government organizations. Therefore, critics argue, certain toolsespecially those that would make it possible to filter the Internet transactions of thousands or millions of people simultaneouslyshould not even be developed, whereas those with lesser capabilities, such as Carnivore, should operate under more severe restrictions than they presently do.



Lee, Jennifer. "Guerilla Warfare, Waged with Code." New York Times. October 10, 2002.

Markoff, John, and John Schwartz. "Bush Administration to Propose System for Monitoring Internet." New York Times. December 20, 2002.

McCullagh, Declan. "FBI Agents Soon May Be Able to Spy on Internet Users Legally Without a Court Order." New York Times. September 14, 2001.


Poindexter, John. "Overview of the Information Awareness Office." Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. August 2, 2002. <http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/dod/poindexter.html> (Jan. 28, 2003).


Cyber Security

Electronic Surveillance

views updated Jun 11 2018


ELECTRONIC SURVEILLANCE. Court-approved electronic surveillance has become an increasingly important, and controversial, law enforcement tool to fight crime. Its origins date to the simple wiretapping procedure of connecting a listening device to the circuit of a handset telephone, begun in the late 1920s. However, advances in communications during the last decades of the twentieth century have challenged surveillance techniques to become more sophisticated, and in the eyes of some, too intrusive.

Law enforcement's court-approved access to communication, including wiretaps, pen registers, and traps and traces, are neither technically nor legally simple. Intercepting communication information has become further complicated by the changing concept of the "telephone number," which used to represent a physical location. However, technology now often uses such a number merely as the beginning of a communication link that soon loses its identity with an individual as the call becomes routed to others. The shift from analog to digital data, the use of microwave and satellite carriers in the 1960s, and computer-based switching have all changed the nature of surveillance substantially. Additionally, computerized data transfer and mobile communications have made surveillance more costly.

Legally, the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects citizens against unlawful, unreasonable search and seizure by the government. Governmental intrusion into the private lives of Americans must fit guidelines outlined by the Constitution and interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court. But technological changes in communication challenge both the court system and the U.S. Congress to seek a reasonable balance between personal rights and the public interest. In 1928, the Supreme Court ruled in Olmstead v. the United States that wiretapping did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Congress responded in 1934 with the Communication Act, which established wiretap statutes to govern the procedure. By 1968, legal interpretations of the Communication Act had become so complex that Congress again clarified guidelines regulating federal wiretap surveillance under Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. By the end of the twentieth century, thirty-seven states had enacted statutes that parallel the Title III guidelines. The provisions of the 1968 act continue to govern the procedures for legal authority to intercept wire, oral, and electronic communication.

To obtain a court order for surveillance requires evidence of probable cause as well as demonstration that normal investigative techniques cannot yield the same results. Legal permission is normally limited to thirty days and must also record surveillance in such a way that it cannot be altered or edited. Interception has the additional responsibility to minimize data gathering that may not be relevant to investigations.

In a digital age, gathering such information has become costly, and in 1994 Congress passed the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act authorizing $500 million over fiscal years 1995–1998 to upgrade interception technologies. The Act also required service providers to build surveillance needs into the design of their equipment and systems.

In part because of the enhanced sophistication of modern electronic surveillance, the National Security Agency (NSA) and other law enforcement organizations came under increasing criticism in the 1990s for unconstitutional spying on its citizens. In April 2000, public sentiment compelled NSA Director Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden to appear before the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to defend secret electronic intelligence gathering in the interests of national security. American rights organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union vigorously opposed newly developed Internet spy technologies like "Carnivore," which gave the FBI the ability to intercept and analyze large amounts of e-mail from both suspects and non-suspects alike.

A political shift to support an increase in domestic surveillance began after the 19 April 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City. Following the terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001, Congress strengthened federal authority to conduct electronic surveillance coincident with the FBI's 2002 mandate to focus on terrorism.


Colbridge, Thomas D. "Electronic Surveillance: A Matter of Necessity." The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin (1 February 2000): 1–10.

Lyon, David, and Elia Zureik, ed. Computers, Surveillance, and Privacy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press: 1996.

Ray, Diana. "Big Brother Is Watching You (Electronic Surveillance)." Insight on the News (23 July 2001): 1–3.



views updated Jun 27 2018

205. Eavesdropping (See also Curiosity, Voyeurism.)

  1. Andret eavesdrops through keyhole on Tristan and Isoldes conversation. [Arthurian Legend: Walsh Classical, 22]
  2. Polonius lurking behind arras, he is killed accidentally by Hamlet. [Br. Lit.: Hamlet ]
  3. Pry, Paul inquisitive, meddlesome character who eavesdrops on everyone. [Br. Drama: Paul Pry, Payton, 514]
  4. Rumpelstiltskin his name overheard by queens messenger, allowing spell to be broken. [Ger. Fairy Tale: Grimm, 19]

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Electronic surveillance