Changes Sought To Massachusetts Wiretap Law

Jan 28, 2013

Martha Coakley

The state’s top law enforcement official, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley says when it comes to communications technology criminals have the upper hand because the state’s current wiretap law has not been upgraded since 1968.

Coakley was  joined Monday by a coalition of  state legislators, law enforcement officers and local officials who spoke to reporters about a  bill filed in the legislature to change the wiretap law. It would make clear the law applies to cellphones and other communication devices.  It would remove a requirement that targets of a wiretap must be members of  organized crime.

Police would still need  a warrant  from a judge to wiretap a suspect, but the length of the wiretap would increase from 15 days to 30 days, which is the same period allowed for in federal law.

Coakley has tried for several years to get the legislature to update the wiretap law. She said this time there is momentum  as part of the effort to combat gun violence.

Defense lawyers have been critical of efforts to change the state’s wiretap law claiming it could result in abuses by the police. State  Representative Eugene O’Flaherty, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee says the wiretap law has to strike a balance between the rights of privacy and the need for public safety

The proposed change in the wiretap law has the backing of several municipal officials, including the Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.  Boston Police Deputy Superintendent Daniel Linskey said the law needs to be updated to reflect the changing nature of violent crime

Michael O’Keefe, the Cape and Islands’ District Attorney, said all of the Massachusetts DA’s endorse the wiretape bill. And, he noted that two justices of the state’s highest court had , in 2011, urged legislators to change the law.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled a recording of a confession to a drive-by shooting was not admissible as evidence because the target of the wiretap was not connected with organized crime.