When New York City Was a Wiretapper’s Dream

Check out this a juicy and informative read from IEEE Spectrum. The piece gives you a fascinating snapshot of how wiretapping played an outsized role in post-war NYC, details ranging from the petty and personal to the corporate and corrupt. Perhaps most interesting is how this era revealed that privacy-based legislation would always be outpaced by eavesdroppers and their impressive yet morally murky techniques.

ON FEBRUARY 11, 1955, an anonymous tip led two New York Police Department detectives and two New York Telephone Company investigators to an apartment on the fourth floor of a residential building at 360 East 55th Street in midtown Manhattan. In the back bedroom of the unit, the group discovered a cache of stolen wiretapping equipment that turned out to have direct lines into six of New York City’s largest telephone exchanges: PLaza 1, 3, and 5; MUrray Hill 8; ELdorado 5; and TEmpleton 8. The connections blanketed an area of Manhattan running from East 38th Street to East 96th Street, a swath of the city’s most expensive real estate.

“There wasn’t a single tap-free telephone on the east side of New York,” professional wiretapper Bernard Spindel remarked of the arrangement. (Spindel was in all likelihood the source of the anonymous tip.) News of the discovery made the front page of the New York Times a week later.

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