The young Trump Administration has got into yet another controversy after US President Donald Trump claimed on Twitter early Saturday that his predecessor, Barack Obama, wiretapped his phones at the Trump Tower during the presidential election campaign last fall.
While Trump provided no evidence to support his claims that have been widely described by many as baseless, some may even be wondering what wiretapping is in the first place.
Is it legal for a sitting President to be "wire tapping" a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
What is wiretapping?
Merriam-Webster puts it simply as the act of tapping someone's "telephone or telegraph wire in order to get information." How Stuff Works gives a more technical definition of the phenomenon, saying wiretapping is "connecting a listening device to the circuit carrying information between phones" and record the conversation to get information from a remote location.
When we speak into a telephone's receiver, the sound produces waves that are transmitted as fluctuating electrical current. This unstable electrical current travels to the receiver in the phone on the other end through copper wires. During this journey, the electrical current is converted into digital information, so that it can be decoded easily over long distances.
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It is in this path through the global phone network when the digital information becomes vulnerable to theft. Similar to plugging an extra phone into a jack, anyone can easily deploy devices called "loads" anywhere along the line to decode the digital conversation.
"In wiretapping, the load is a device that translates the electrical circuit back into the sound of your conversation," according to How Stuff Works.
Can a U.S. president order wiretapping?
Legal wiretapping or lawful interception of telephonic conversations is strictly controlled by the governments in many countries to protect privacy. In the US, federal agencies are required to get approval for wiretaps from the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
No President can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you. https://t.co/lEVscjkzSw
— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) March 4, 2017
According to CNN, it is the Department of Justice which seeks warrants to tap someone's phones as part of a federal investigation. And most importantly, this department conducts probes independently of the White House and the president.
Therefore, it essentially means that even if there were wires tapped in Trump Tower, it would likely be because the Department of Justice had enough evidence of a serious federal crime, and it's Trump himself, not Obama, who should worry about it, Wired reported.
The FBI link
Trump's allegations against Obama could be based on the fact that the FBI has been investigating alleged ties between Trump campaign advisers and Russia, and the federal investigation bureau was recently granted a Foreign Intelligence Service Act (FISA) warrant to conduct its probe.
However, such a warrant would only have been approved because the FBI, not the Obama administration, managed to convince a federal judge that the Trump campaign did have links to a foreign entity.
Meanwhile, FBI director James B Comey asked the Justice Department on Sunday (March 5) to reject Trump's claims that Obama had ordered for his phones to be tapped.