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My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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WASHINGTON—Charles A. Reich, professor of law at the Yale University Law School, has written an interesting paper on the subject of three bills—S. 1086, S. 1221 and S. 1495—now before Congress, all dealing with eavesdropping and wiretapping. These bills fundamentally affect the preservation of certain rights which Americans have felt necessary to guard our freedom, and I would like to quote some of the points made by Prof. Reich, an expert in the field of constitutional law and property who testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights.

"Private property," he writes, "is to me one of the most basic institutions of a democratic country like ours. . . Among the most important attributes of private property is the right to possess it exclusively, to keep all strangers out. The householder may shut his door against the world. That is one of the proudest rights of an American—a right enjoyed by the householders of few other countries in the world today.

"It applies with equal force whether the intruder is a private trespasser or a government agent. This right of a citizen to shut the door against anyone, even the king himself, is part of our ancient heritage of freedom from England. . . Eavesdropping and wiretapping are trespasses against the home. . . They are much more serious trespasses than an unlawful search of the premises for they may continue over long periods of time and are usually unknown to the householder even after they occur.

"Eavesdropping has always been regarded as despicable by those who believe in the privacy of private property, and wiretapping, while of more recent origin, is in no way different. When eavesdropping and wiretapping are carried on by government against its people we have a condition that reminds me of what George Orwell foresaw for 1984, when Big Brother will be able to watch what each of us is doing at home. Spying by government against its citizens is odious to a free people, and I think the framers of our Constitution forbade it once and for all when they provided that the right of the people to be secure in their homes against unreasonable searches 'shall not be violated."'

The argument for allowing law enforcement officers to use wire tapping as a way of discovering crime is, of course, difficult to argue against. Yet I cannot help feeling that more and more we take away our constitutional freedoms in order to safeguard ourselves from dangers that could be warded off in other ways. I hope there will be careful consideration whether any of these bills should be passed or if something more limited should be considered, with safeguards of individual rights more carefully stated.

E. R.

(Copyright, 1961, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, May 22, 1961

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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MEP edition publlished on 2008-06-30

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.