What ability does law enforcement have to monitor phone calls?

Emerging technology has raised questions about how, and under what circumstances and situations, law enforcement agencies can tap into and trace phone calls. As new and enhanced telecommunications systems develop, the debate over this issue becomes more intense.

At this point, law enforcement officers and intelligence agencies can seek permission from the courts to enact surveillance of telephone and computers as part of an investigation. They are authorized to do so by the Wiretapping Act of 1968, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (CALEA), and the Patriot Act of 2001. Investigations involving monitoring phone calls must be specifically for solving a criminal case or intended for national security purposes.

According to the 2007 Wiretap Report, federal and state courts issued 2,208 orders for the interception of wireless, local phone, or Internet communications in 2007. This represents a 20-percent increase over the previous year.

Law enforcement agencies are, when warranted, able to tape the specifics of a conversation or to trace the origins of a call without either party on the call being aware of the surveillance. Under the provisions of CALEA, this applies to all telecommunications companies including VoIP—Voice Over Internet Protocol—services.

Communications over fiber optic systems are more difficult to tap and monitor. With fiber optic technology, picking up on transmissions can be more difficult.

If a phone tap is implemented, a computer copies the digitized phone conversation to a second line and it is impossible to tell whether a line is being tapped. A well-designed tap installed on a phone wire can be difficult to detect.

The American Civil Liberties Union has fought the expansion of law enforcement surveillance practices of telephone and computer conversations for decades. However it has been mostly unsuccessful.


61 Responses

  1. For more information on Trap and trace devices see the Cornell University website:


  2. Assistance Capability Requirements for Wireline, Cellular, and PCS Telecommunications Carriers

  3. Good ideas

  4. Ok thank you for that

  5. I did not know that

  6. Great advice

  7. good point

  8. good point

  9. good point

  10. good point

  11. good point

  12. good point

  13. good point

  14. good point

  15. good point

  16. good point

  17. Someone needs to record it for the rest of us…

  18. All it says is “For stimulating conversation call this number”, and then it hangs up on you.

  19. Teamwork…means never having to take all the blame yourself.

  20. Just keep trying it only took me about 7 tries to get through.

  21. use drums? use smoke signals? 🙂

  22. use drums? use smoke signals? 🙂

  23. Copying from a single source is called plagiarism, copying from multiple source is called research.

  24. If you want truly to understand something, try to change it.

  25. Hey, at least you are getting better than normal customer service.

  26. I can vouch for the swearing. Some systems don’t respond to key presses and I will just automatically start flipping out then all of a sudden *ring*

  27. A lawyer with a briefcase can steal more than a thousand men with guns.

  28. Try not to become a man of success but rather to become a man of value.

  29. Aim Low, Reach Your Goals, Avoid Disappointment.

  30. Hey, at least you are getting better than normal customer service.

  31. A wise man does not need advice and a fool won’t take it.

  32. Being yourself is being the person everyone else wants you to be.

  33. Never put off until tomorrow what you can avoid all together.

  34. well said

  35. To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.

  36. The wisest mind has something yet to learn.

  37. I thought the tin foil hat was good enough

  38. You just call the number you want to call with the country code. For instance if you wanna call a US toll-free number dial “+1800#######”

  39. Toll free numbers have a number of features which make them different from standard 1+ switched numbers. All toll free numbers are registered with the national SMS database. Not to be confused with “Short Message Service” on cell phones, the SMS database keeps track of ownership of a toll free numbers via RespOrg (Responsible Organization), and routing of toll free numbers, including time of day routing, area of service routing, and the ability to route toll free numbers across multiple carriers for rudundantcy purposes. At the carrier level, toll free numbers may be pointed to either a customer’s trunk group or to a POTS number.

    Toll free numbers cannot be slammed, the only way to change carrier on a toll free number is to write a letter of authorization to the RespOrg to release the number back to the national SMS database.

    In short, toll free numbers are industrial strength telecom. They’re not going anywhere until someone can build an infrastructure which offers the same or better guaranteed reliability.

  40. just because you have a number doesn’t mean you’re going to be heard.

  41. Speaking of financial institutions, State Farm Insurance/Bank has been using a voice authentication for about 2 years now. Their system has you repeat about 8 numbers back to it before you can use the telephone teller. I can honestly say that I have had less problems with their system than any other voice recognition/speaker recognition system.

  42. A little off-topic, but what is the fourth generation mentioned in the article? Looking at some of the cellphones in Japan, i’m wondering what further features they could throw in there…

  43. interesting article. much appreciated

  44. I once had to call eBay… what a nightmare. I wish I’d never found their number, as the “service” was so horrible and the experience even worse.

    Nonetheless, this is a great resource to have handy – I’ve bookmarked it. Thanks for sharing this info with us.

  45. For those unfortunate times when you forget your cellphone at home and need to call a taxi (Or some other business), you can use Goog411 to make free phone calls from a payphone…

  46. […] more here. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Sweden’s new wiretapping law ‘much worse […]

  47. […] more here. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Toll Free Home Phone Numbers?Virtual Office […]

  48. […] Read how difficult this can be, here. […]

  49. […] The Patriot Act in Action Posted on December 28, 2010 by smsgov Has the government gone too far with their so called “regulations” (or lack there of) on phone tapping? If you are asking yourself why the government might want to tap lil’ ‘ol you and just forget about it… Don’t, because you’re in for a big surprise. Read more here. […]

  50. […] What ability does law enforcement have to monitor phone calls? […]

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