The Wiretap Statute et seq is title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. It makes it illegal for anyone to intercept or disclose intercepted telephone communications, unless so ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction.
It was mainly the result of two Supreme Court cases — Katz v. United States and Berger v. New York — and from criticism by the Church Committee of the actions of COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program). The Supreme Court found in both Katz v. U.S. and Berger v. New York that Fourth Amendment search and seizure protections prohibited warrantless wiretaps, while COINTELPRO was a program of the FBI that was aimed at investigating and disrupting dissident political organizations within the United States. COINTELPRO's operations during 1956–1971 were broadly targeted against organizations that were (at the time) considered to have politically radical elements. These included those whose stated goal was the violent overthrow of the U.S. government (such as the Weathermen), non-violent civil rights groups such as Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and violent groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. The Church Committee found that most of the surveillance was illegal. Consequently Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, though noting that wiretaps and interception of communications are a vital part of the law enforcement, found that wiretapping had been undertaken without legal sanction and were being used to overhear the private conversations of U.S. citizens without their consent, and the conversations were then often being used as evidence in court proceedings. In order to protect the integrity of the courts while also ensuring the privacy of citizens was not violated the Act provided a legal framework within which wiretaps and interceptions of communications could be used. The Act requires a court order authorizing the use of such measures against U.S. citizens, with penalties for those who do not get such authorization. The notable exception to these orders is in section , which makes an exception to the restrictions of wiretaps in cases where the President must take measures to protect the U.S. from actual or potential hostile actions from a foreign power.