Saturday, April 23, 2011

When Wiretapping Runs Wild

Despite voluminous restrictions on when they can and can’t be used, government wiretaps are still a blunt instrument.

While they can be used to land powerful evidence against insider-trading suspects, recent case have raised fresh questions about when government surveillance crosses a line into unwarranted invasion of privacy.

The WSJ’s Michael Rothfeld provides a look at the issues in this story, out Friday.

It seems that more than 40 secret recordings played for jurors at the trial of Galleon Group founder Raj Rajaratnam, which will head to the jury on Monday, have contained stretches of dialogue that appear exclusively personal.

Yes, personal. In other words: snippets of dialogue that focus on marriages and alleged extramarital affairs, social visits and vacations.

There’s a limit, it seems, to just how much personal information a judge will allow the government to tape. In a ruling on Wednesday, a judge overseeing a different but related insider-trading case excoriated the government for monitoring intimate calls between trader Craig Drimal and his wife about their marriage, which had nothing to do with the case.

The FBI is supposed to stop monitoring conversations that aren’t relevant to an investigation or involve relationships that legally are privileged, such as those with a spouse, attorney, doctor or clergy member. They are allowed, however, to tune back in periodically to make sure the discussion hasn’t changed.


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