Apparently, a  lot of people were doing it.
Apparently, a lot of people were doing it.

. . . or click on the link here for Audio PlayerAmerican Forum – Should Wiretapping Be Legal? – June 3, 1956 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection.

In the 1950s, with the Red Scare on everyone’s minds and Organized Crime in everyone’s newspaper, the question of just how far could law enforcement go to apprehend criminals.

The question of wiretapping had been around for a while – it was used but not admissible evidence in a court of law. There was a movement afoot to change all of that, to make wiretapping and surveillance of suspected criminals legal and to make admissions via secret means to be admissible evidence.

There were some who were all for it – that this was one less impediment to successful law enforcement in these dangerous and uncertain times. There were others who weren’t in favor of it, because eavesdropping by its nature was an ugly practice which further damaged our already fragile moral values.

But the object of a proposed new legislation wasn’t to make eavesdropping legal everywhere all the time; only legal as evidence in certain cases of national security, and for specific groups or individuals.

Now of course, we no longer talk about eavesdropping on individuals but mass data retrieval involving hundreds and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. A little different than one bleary-eyed agent, hunched over a tape recorder with pad and pen in hand, listening for evidence, hours on end.

But in 1956 it wasn’t as complicated or as impersonal as it is now. To debate the pros and cons of Wiretapping, this episode of American Forum features Congressman Emmanuel Cellar, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and Congressman E.L. Forrester, also a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Hard to imagine what the world of 1956 would have thought of the world of 2015, but 59 years ago it was an entirely different set of circumstances and an entirely different world.

Here is that episode of The American Forum of June 3, 1956.


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