Wire­tap law needs fix

Boston Herald - - NEWS -

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.

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