Controversial, Necessary: Just Do Not Listen to My Communications

From the Random House definition -- wiretap: act or instance of tapping a telephone so as to eavesdrop on calls made or received; (vb) tap; (n) device attached to telephone line in order to eavesdrop.

A little background

Since ancient times political, private and military interests have wanted to send and keep;  intercept and break the secrecy, of messages. The ancient Egyptians eventually made cryptic changes to the hieroglyphs to become more obscure to be "mysterious", and attract admirers. Though this was not a serious attempt at secrecy, it was its infancy. Throughout history it has been sporadic. The early Chinese dynasties, having a ideographic text they had to physically hide their messages, sometimes it was the rice paper note wrapped in wax and carried in places where the sun don't shine, or swallowed. (I wouldn't want to be the recipient.) In the 18th Century, they used the Latin alphabet to send messages, but no development was really necessary of cryptology because only the few at the top could read or write, anyway. In India, they used exchanging letters and words in patterns. Listening through dwellings openings by hanging down from the roof or eaves; and became known as eavesdropping, but this was technically intercepting aural communication. From the French we get surveillance, and that is literaly "to look upon" therefore visual. (Though both words have been generically expanded, as has "wiretap.") Now in breaking code, there is the thousands of years old OT story of the Hebrew Babylonian captive who was the only one who read the words forming on the wall warning Nebuchadnezzar, thus making him the first cryptanalyst. These methods have been continually improved and used for written and oral communication, in what became known as Cabinet Noir.

The semaphore invented by Claude Chappe in 1794 became the first "telegraph", though non-electric, for alternate communication. Though in 1809 a gas powered wired one crudely sent a message a couple of thousand feet, it was the English inventor of the electromagnet, William Sturgeon in 1825 that made the American Harrison Dyer's electrical wired signal more practical for paving the way than burning spots on paper. Even though in the United States Samuel Morse perfected and showed in 1838 the electromagnetic signal that could make marks far away, it was first demonstrated by his fellow citizen, Joseph Henry in 1830 that a bell could ring from it. A year before Morse, using Henry's ideas, demonstrated his practical use, in England, Cook and Wheatstone patented theirs based on Henry's ideas. It is kind of interesting that even in the telephone age there is still a use for this antique, notice these pop culture references:

Western Union 

Elvis Presley (words and music: tepper - bennet) 

Oh, Western Union clickety-clack,
I had a fight with my baby
Ooh, how sorry I am.
She won't talk to me no how,
I'm gonna send a telegram:
Western Union oh yeah*.
Also by the Five Americans, (Songwriters: Durrill, John Robert; Ezell, Norman Glenn; Rabon, Michael) :
Things went wrong today.
Bad news came my way.
I woke up to find
A wire that blew my mind

Western Union man,
Bad news in his hand,
Knocking at my door
Selling me the score:

Western Union.....
Dit dit dit dee dit
etc. ad infinitum (almost)*
And did you know Jerry Butler helped write his version?:
Oh, Western Union man send a telegram to my baby,
Send a telegram, send a telegram, oh,
This is what I want you to say,
I want to tell her that I'm all alone,
I tried to call her on the phone
Tell her I'm in misery and think she's avoiding me
And if the telegram don't do,
Send a box of candy and flowers too.

What's on tap?

By the Civil War, the telegraph was transcontinental with Western Union's wires following the multifarious rail lines. Now we come to the meat of this article: Abraham Lincoln's role with the telegraph during the War Between the States. He did not have a telegraph office in the White House, but went to the War Department frequently to receive and send messages. One way to thwart messages was to re-word them, cut them off and not send them like the one to be sent about the Union's defeat at Ball's Bluff, an example early censorship of bad news. This led to orders demanding original copies of telegrams sent to higher end authorities. They also had wagons carrying field lines. Both Union and Confederates tapped the telegraph lines, and they both sometimes used ciphers to combat eavesdropping. They spliced or "tapped" (like getting maple syrup) into the lines in enemy territory, and the ones monitoring many times had to sequester in harsh conditions. They also counted on unwanted listeners by providing false information over the lines. These telegraph eavesdropping specialists and those engineers who repaired sabotaged and otherwise damaged lines were more brave than frontline soldiers: one out of every twelve workers died in this U.S. Civil War endeavor. If captured, their fate was worse than a combatant.

You Can't Ring Ma Bell

Mr Nice Guy says these are the top 10 phone songs:

1) Pennsylvania 6 - 5000 - Glenn Miller Orchestra
2) Call Me- Blondie
3) Telephone Line - Electric Light Orchestra
4) Back Of My Hand (I've Got Your Number) -- Jags
5) Rikki Don't Lose That Number - Steely Dan
6) Operator - Midnight Star {Jim Croce did another song}
7) Baby Don't Forget My Number - Milli Vanilli
8) 777-9311 - The Time
9) Obscene Phone Caller - Rockwell
10) Memphis - Chuck Berry and Johnny Rivers

(What happened to
Beechwood 45789, The Marvelettes
You Didn't Try and Call Me, Frank Zappa,
No Reply
, the Beatles ? )

After the telephone was developed by several to get voice over wires like the telegraph, the most notable success, of course, was Alexander Graham Bell, who obtained a U.S. patent. By the 1890's the switching, the interstate lines, and the rotary dial made it a feasible communication device, and the police or the military had no qualms in tapping phone lines. But, in 1928 a case went to the Supreme Court, because bootlegger Roy Olmstead was fighting the wiretaps of the police making the case he violated the National Prohibition Act. Justice Taft ruled that it did not go against either Fourth nor Fifth Amendment rights. His answer to critics: "If they think we are going to be frightened in our effort to stand by the law and give the public a chance to punish criminals, they are mistaken, even though we are condemned for lack of high ideals." There was also the Federal Communications Act of 1934, which president FDR promoted, that made unauthorized wiretaps illegal. The Federal government wanted a widespread law on communication since as early as 1850 when subterranean lines were going to be used. In 1961 in Silverman versus the United States the 1927, ruling was upheld. However in 1967 the case of payphone calls being intercepted by a gambler in Katz versus the US was overturned by the Supereme Court. The issue was privacy violation, search and seizure. John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy; then Lyndon B. Johnson because of high crime, assasinations and the mob, we saw the 1968 Safe Streets and Crime Control Act. Today, states vary about home recording of conversations, but usually allow it if permission is granted. Everyone has probably seen plenty of movies that involve spying this way from one entity to another.

Turn Your Radio On

(Ace Collins)

Come and listen in to a radio station,
Where the mighty host of Heaven sing,
Turn your radio on ... (turn your radio on),
Turn your radio on ... (turn your radio on),

If you want to want to hear the songs of Zion,
Coming from the land of endless spring,
Get in touch with God ... (get in touch with God)
Turn your radio on ... (turn your radio on).

Now after Guglielmo Marconi, et al, got the wireless going, then there was a need to get a handle on that new medium a bit after the turn into the Twentieth century. There was the Radio Act of 1912 (and when commercial radio was full swing, an update in 1927; and then the aforementioned broader FCA of '34. James Lawrence Fly, a civil liberties lawyer and head of the FCC under FDR was in the middle of it all. He refused FBI J. Edgar Hoover's request in 1940 for more permission to use wiretaps on the Axis powers that had been limited by Section 605 of the Communications Act of 1934. Fly also stopped a bill in congress in 1941 pushing for legalizing these wiretaps; this was the impetus for Hoover (whose agents were contravening the law) to start collecting the goods on him. By 1943 they forced Fry to resign. Electronic eavesdropping is still called wiretapping, even when it is wireless, whether it is ham radio, phones, computers or Wii. Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 makes it illegal to read private emails. In the 1990's Bill Clinton was not hesitant to authorize wiretaps allowing the capture of Soviet spy Aldrich Ames.

And lately, after 9/11 (the terrorist Al Kaida bombing of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001), we had the full blown debate over privacy when that time's president, George W. Bush pushed forth the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, better known as the Patriot Act. Now the rules that were allowed to be bent to intercept every kind of communication would cause a firestorm of legal concern. It is a damned if you do, damned if you do not scenario.  In August of 2010, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency hoped to use speakers skilled in Ebonics, coined in 1973 by Robert Lee Williams, to help them de-cypher what wiretaps they did get, so it gets us back full circle. Though this has naturally received rebuke, Walt Wolfram, professor of English linguistics at North Carolina State University thinks there were "...issues in 1970s Black Panther trials in which there was confusion in court over whether the phrase 'Off the pigs' was a threat to kill police officers."

Professor Gary Marx of Massachussetts Institute of Technology made these compelling points to consider:

    A. The Means
    Harm: does the technique cause unwarranted physical or psychological harm?
    Boundary: does the technique cross a personal boundary without permission (whether involving coercion or deception or a body, relational or spatial border)?
    Trust: does the technique violate assumptions that are made about how personal information will be treated such as no secret recordings?
    Personal relationships: is the tactic applied in a personal or impersonal setting?
    Invalidity: does the technique produce invalid results?
    B. The Data Collection Context
    Awareness: are individuals aware that personal information is being collected, who seeks it and why?
    Consent: do individuals consent to the data collection?
    Golden rule: would those responsible for the surveillance (both the decision to apply it and its actual application) agree to be its subjects under the conditions in which they apply it to others?
    Minimization: does a principle of minimization apply?
    Public decision-making: was the decision to use a tactic arrived at through some public discussion and decision making process?
    Human review: is there human review of machine generated results?
    Right of inspection: are people aware of the findings and how they were created?

    Right to challenge and express a grievance: are there procedures for challenging the results, or for entering alternative data or interpretations into the record?
    Redress and sanctions: if the individual has been treated unfairly and procedures violated, are there appropriate means of redress? Are there means for discovering violations and penalties to encourage responsible surveillant behavior?
    Adequate data stewardship and protection: can the security of the data be adequately protected?
    Equality-inequality regarding availability and application: a) is the means widely available or restricted to only the most wealthy, powerful or technologically sophisticated? b) within a setting is the tactic broadly applied to all people or only to those less powerful or unable to resist c) if there are means of resisting the provision of personal information are these equally available, or restricted to the most privileged?
    The symbolic meaning of a method: what does the use of a method communicate more generally?
    The creation of unwanted precedents: is it likely to create precedents that will lead to its application in undesirable ways?
    Negative effects on surveillors and third parties: are there negative effects on those beyond the subject?
    C. Uses
    Beneficiary: does application of the tactic serve broad community goals, the goals of the object of surveillance or the personal goals of the data collector?
    Proportionality: is there an appropriate balance between the importance of the goal and the cost of the means?
    Alternative means: are other less costly means available?
    Consequences of inaction: where the means are very costly, what are the consequences of taking no surveillance action?
    Protections: are adequate steps taken to minimize costs and risk?
    Appropriate vs. inappropriate goals: are the goals of the data collection legitimate?
    The goodness of fit between the means and the goal: is there a clear link between the information collected and the goal sought?
    Information used for original vs. other unrelated purposes: is the personal information used for the reasons offered for its collection and for which consent may have been given and does the data stay with the original collector, or does it migrate elsewhere?
    Failure to share secondary gains from the information: is the personal data collected used for profit without permission from, or benefit to, the person who provided it?
    Unfair disadvantage: is the information used in such a way as to cause unwarranted harm or disadvantage to its subject?
    In general, we feel that surveillance can be ethical, but that there have to exist reasonable, publicly accessible records and accountability for those approving and performing the surveillance in question.

Sources: search: The Codebreakers: the story of secret writing By David Kahn.


*Oldies DJ Casey Kasem said this song had the record of the most repetition (45 "dits") of any top 100 song.

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