May 10 – J. Edgar and the FBI

On May 10, 1924, J. Edgar Hoover became the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI is much in the news today. While it was created as a law enforcement agency, from the early days of J. Edgar Hoover, its longest-serving director, it has drifted (or rushed) into politics and policy. While head of the FBI, Hoover used wiretapping during Prohibition to arrest bootleggers. The constitutionality of this was challenged and upheld in Olmstead v. United States, ruling that the wiretapping was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment as an unlawful search and seizure. “Bugging” of phones was allowed until 1967 when the Supreme Court ruled that warrants must be obtained before public authorities can tap phones.

In 2016 the FBI requested that Apple help unlock an iphone belonging to tone of the suspects in a shooting in San Bernardino, California. In order to do so, Apple would have had to create and electronically sign new software to unlock this work-issued phone. According to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, this would have opened a “backdoor” creating a “master key” used to open all iphones.

One of the oldest questions in politics is Who guards the guardians? Today, this has become a pressing issue, and almost every day, a form of it is in the news.


  1. The Constitution places the role of overseeing Federal agencies in the hands of Congress. Do you think this is appropriate? If not Congress, then who do you think should oversee agencies like the FBI?
  2. Why do you think law enforcement agencies have trouble staying out of politics? Do you think this is a new problem?
  3. Companies such as Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook store an estimated 1.2 million terabytes of data. Should the government be granted access to data this when asked? What about if a crime had been suspected?
Image Citation:

3 May 2018, Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation Seal . Retrieved from <>.