Electronic monitoring, or wiretapping, refers to the surveillance of email, fax, Internet and telephone communications. This activity requires a court order to proceed, based on a U.S. government affidavit showing that a crime has been, is being or will be committed. However, if a person risks severe injury or death, the government can ask to start monitoring communications right away, the U.S. Department of Justice states. Similar exceptions are made for organized crime or national security cases. Once an order is granted, police agencies can identify criminal conspirators to deter or punish the offenders involved. Other examples of electronic monitoring include drones, license plate readers, computer forensics and subpoena of data stored in the cloud. New technologies can push the limits of privacy. For instance, stingray tracking devices allow law enforcement to determine the location of a suspect’s cell phone, as well as the identity of random individuals close by.
The fixed surveillance, or “stakeout,” requires officers to surreptitiously observe people and places from a distance. Variations include the one- and two-person surveillance methods. According to author and criminal justice professor Michael Palmiotto, the two-person approach is considered more desirable. It allows officers to periodically switch positions, reducing a suspect’s chances of spotting them. By contrast, an officer assigned to one-person surveillance can’t take his eyes off the scene and has nobody to relieve him.
Stationary Technical Surveillance
In stationary technical surveillance, the investigator installs a hidden camera and recording equipment in a parked car. The vehicle sits in an area that draws little attention, such as a parking lot. This technique is sometimes called unmanned surveillance, according to the International Federation for Protection Officers. Investigators can record photo and video images at any time, reducing the need for humans to monitor a situation around the clock. Surveillance teams come and go as they wish, so the risk of discovery is smaller, too.
Three-person surveillance methods are more complex to run, but provide two bonuses, according to Palmiotto’s book, “Criminal Investigation.” Officers can change positions more often, which greatly reduces the possibility of detection. This technique is also called the ABC Method, whose name refers to the officers’ assigned roles. Person A stays behind the suspect, followed by the second officer, Person B. The third officer, Person C, remains on the opposite side of the street, but always moves slightly ahead of — or behind — the suspect.
Undercover operations amount to another form of surveillance, but in this method the officer plays an active role in revealing criminal activities. For example, an undercover gang investigator might begin infiltrating the group by adopting the same hobbies or jobs as the suspects. To gain acceptance within the gang and build trust, the officer must also create a plausible cover story that explains his presence in the neighborhood.
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