AG Coakley, Coalition of Legislators, Law Enforcement, Mayors File Update to Wiretap Law to Combat Gang and Gun Violence
BOSTON – Seeking to combat street, gang and gun violence and modernize an outdated law to better address the public safety challenges of the 21st century, Attorney General Martha Coakley and a coalition of legislators, mayors, and law enforcement announced today legislation filed to update the state’s wire interception statute.
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The bill, An Act Updating the Wire Interception Law, would update and modernize the Massachusetts wiretap law for the first time since 1968. Sponsored by Senator Katherine Clark (D-Melrose), Representative Eugene L. O’Flaherty (D-Chelsea), and Representative John D. Keenan (D-Salem), this legislation would ensure that law enforcement has the necessary tools to investigate and prosecute sophisticated criminal activities.
“This is a common-sense step forward to keeping our communities safe from those who illegally sell and use guns and foster an atmosphere of violence,” AG Coakley said. “If we want to truly be able to investigate and prosecute some of our most dangerous criminals and take them off our streets, we need to update this law. I want to thank Senator Clark and Chairmen O’Flaherty and Keenan for sponsoring this legislation. I also want to thank the mayors, legislators, District Attorneys, and our partners in law enforcement for their support of this important public safety bill.”
“Our wiretap laws have not been updated in over 40 years,” said Senator Katherine Clark. “This bill will update the laws to reflect major advances in communications technology. It will give law enforcement an up-to-date tool to investigate and prosecute violent crimes and human, gun and drug trafficking. I thank Attorney General Coakley for her leadership and look forward to working with her and my colleagues in the legislature to pass this important bill.”
“With the filing of this proposal, the Attorney General and the Legislature can begin the arduous task of drafting a statute that will bring our wiretapping laws into the 21st century,” stated House Judiciary Chairman Eugene L. O’Flaherty. “Technology, and the criminal organizations that use it, has changed and we must work with our partners in law enforcement to provide them the tools they need to effectively prosecute those elements that work to undermine our public safety. I look forward to accomplishing this with the help and support of my colleagues this legislative session.”
“The wiretap law is in sore need of updates to reflect the needs of law enforcement and to protect and serve today’s citizens,” said State Representative John D. Keenan, Chair of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. “Police and prosecutors must have modern and appropriate tools to keep up with the advancements in technology, changes in criminal statutes and the behavior of major criminals.”
“Our officers should be able to utilize these surveillance tools to investigate violent crimes,” Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said. “An update to the wiretap law is long overdue and these changes will go a long way in getting illegal guns, drugs, and harmful individuals off our streets and out of our neighborhoods.”
“The state's wiretap laws are stuck in the days of La Cosa Nostra when today's violent offenders are using 21st century technology,” Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said. “Updating them would allow us to convict defendants with their own voices and reduce the burden on civilian witnesses.”
“I support these efforts to provide much needed updates to our state’s wiretap laws,” Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone, Jr. said. “This bill is an important step to give law enforcement the tools we need to keep our communities safe from gun and street violence, combat human trafficking, and investigate terrorist threats.”
An Act Updating the Wire Interception Law makes needed changes to the Massachusetts wiretap law to ensure that it keeps pace with technology used by criminal enterprises now and in the future. By updating the law to explicitly incorporate new and future technologies, the legislation seeks to reduce the hurdles faced by law enforcement to effectively investigate crimes including homicides, illegal firearms, gang violence, human trafficking operations, narcotics distribution networks and other violent criminal activity.
An update to this statute was made all the more urgent after the SJC’s recent decision in Commonwealth v. Tavares, which said that under current law wiretaps must involve organized crime and could not be used to investigate and prosecute many shootings and killings committed by street gangs. As a result of this decision, the SJC also urged an update to this law.
The updates proposed in the legislation clarify when a warrant for a wiretap may be sought, while retaining the existing safeguards that require judicial approval of wiretaps. In addition, the legislation modernizes the definition for “wire communication” to clarify that the statute covers advancements in communication technology to ensure that all forms of wire communications are covered regardless of the ever-changing nature of technological devices. While these forms are already covered by the law, the new legislation would reinforce this fact. The legislation also includes the crimes of human trafficking, gaming, child pornography, money laundering, and enterprise crime in the list of crimes for which a wiretap may be sought. Additionally, the bill extends the possible term of a wiretap to 30 days, from 15 days currently, which is consistent with federal law.
This legislation was filed on January 18. It has been endorsed by:
Senator Katherine Clark (D-Melrose)
House Judiciary Chairman Eugene L. O’Flaherty (D-Chelsea)
House Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Chairman John D. Keenan (D-Salem)
Representative Russell Holmes (D-Boston)
Mayor Thomas M. Menino, City of Boston
Mayor Linda M. Balzotti, City of Brockton
Mayor Jon Mitchell, City of New Bedford
Mayor Gary Christenson, City of Malden
Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone, Jr.
Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley
Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe
Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association
Massachusetts Major City Chiefs Association
Commissioner Ed Davis, Boston Police Department
Chief Brian Kyes, City of Chelsea Police Department
Chief William Brooks, Town of Norwood Police Department
STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT FOR
AN ACT UPDATING THE WIRE INTERCEPTION LAW
Malden Mayor Gary Christenson
“I thank Attorney General Coakley for taking the initiative to reform the current wiretap statute so that the present day advances in technology and communication, such as cell phones and internet, can be addressed. The current law of 1968 needs to be expanded so that our law enforcement agencies will have the necessary tools to effectively investigate and prosecute crimes involving street gangs, child pornography, illegal firearms, human trafficking, etc. One of the needed changes would address the current limited use of electronic surveillance which will greatly assist law enforcement in apprehending those who are using various technological tactics to commit crimes and evade police.”
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell
“As a former federal prosecutor, I have direct experience with the limitations of the current wiretap statute in Massachusetts. These updates, most significantly expanding the list of covered crimes, will go a long way toward strengthening the Commonwealth's hand in investigating and prosecuting the kinds of crimes that affect cities across Massachusetts, including New Bedford.
Brockton Mayor Linda M. Balzotti
“This important legislation seeks to strengthen law enforcement efforts to fight modern day crime with 21st-century laws. It will be another tool for police departments in cities and towns across the Commonwealth, and I appreciate the leadership of Attorney General Coakley and our legislative partners to continue pressing it forward.”
Chief Brian Kyes of Chelsea, Vice President of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs Association:
“The Major City Police Chief's Association proudly endorses the legislation filed on January 18 by Representatives Eugene O'Flaherty of Chelsea and John Keenan of Salem in the House of Representatives and Senator Catherine Clark of Melrose in the Senate on behalf of Attorney General Martha Coakley. There is no doubt that significant updates to this current legislation are desperately needed to keep pace with the ever changing methods of communication in today's society as well as to provide the necessary tools to contend with the current behavioral patterns and trends exhibited by many of the major criminal enterprises operating in many of the major cities and towns in our Commonwealth.”
Chief William Brooks, Town of Norwood Police Department and Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association
“The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association strongly supports Attorney General Martha Coakley's proposal to update the Commonwealth's wire interception law. It is in the interest of public safety that this statute be modernized to keep pace with developments in technology and crime.”