PERSPECTIVES ON TELEPHONE MONITORING : Secret Monitoring Is a Tool of Mistrust

Larry I. Berg is director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC

There are three words to describe engaging in either a business or private conversation with another who is not informed that the conversation is being listened to by a third party: wrong, sad and dumb. It was wrong when President Franklin D. Roosevelt conducted some office visits with officials and guests while a secretary sat below in the basement taking notes, just as it was when President Richard Nixon had Oval Office conversations secretly taped.

It is wrong because such activities have contributed to the general and widespread distrust of government, politicians and business that has so damaged this nation and its capacity to deal with our numerous problems. Just this consequence alone renders an explanation of "efficiency" irrelevant.

It is sad because the revelation could adversely affect--at least temporarily--the mayor's ability to lead effectively. It diverts attention from the severe problems of Los Angeles and results in debates and political exchanges on matters other than those more directly affecting the people of Los Angeles. It also has cast a cloud on future frank conversations.

It is dumb because if Riordan felt such a practice was necessary, all he had to do was consistently inform the caller--a far better choice than having callers read about it in the Los Angeles Times.

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