Wiretap law needs fix
One of the shortcomings of a criminal justice reform bill approved by the state Senate last month was the failure to allow for the use of electronic surveillance in more criminal investigations. The Senate bill was exhaustive in its scope — it goes as far as regulating sex among preteens, for heaven’s sake — but somehow an update that prosecutors have sought literally for decades didn’t make the cut.
Like their Senate counterparts, the reps who shaped the House version of criminal justice reform legislation didn’t include the updated wiretap language. Republicans have sponsored an amendment introducing it, but even if it were to go through it might not survive negotiations between the House and Senate.
And that leads us to wonder how on earth lawmakers can claim they’ve done an exhaustive review of the state’s criminal justice statutes, updating them to reflect the changing times, without addressing this glaring problem.
Under current law, state prosecutors may only seek permission to use a wiretap in cases that can be tied to organized crime. Prosecutors have practically begged to update the definition of wire communications to include cellphones, text messages and email. A bill filed by Gov. Charlie Baker would do that, and also expand the list of designated offenses to allow for electronic surveillance in cases of murder, manslaughter, rape, human trafficking and other major crimes not necessarily tied to “organized crime.”
Privacy advocates aren’t fond of this effort, and defense lawyers don’t like it either. Both groups have a good deal of influence among lawmakers, of course. But reps and senators should be putting the public’s interest first. This gap in state law needs to be closed.