Wiretapping Numbers Dropped Last Year? Not So Fast

The Administrative Office of the U.S. courts has issued a report detailing the total number of state and federal wiretaps in 2006. At first glance it appears that there has been a 26 percent drop in federal wiretaps since last year.

However, the Department of Justice makes a special notation that says, in essence, that there really isn't a decrease in the number of federal orders issued because the numbers submitted do not "reflect a large number of complex and/or sensitive investigations that continued into 2007."

According to the release, some of these investigations are ongoing and some are under seal. The Department of Justice, which is required by law to submit these figures to the Administrative Office, notes that it believes that if it could have included the sensitive information, the latest numbers "would not reflect any perceptible decrease in the use of court-approved electronic surveillance by federal law enforcement agencies."

  • Based on a report issued by the Administrative Office of the U.S. courts, it may seem that there's been a decrease in wiretapping. However, a Department of Justice caveat could prove otherwise.

It seems strange to release a report with such a major caveat from the Department of Justice, but the Administrative Office won't comment. The office simply says in its report: "Each year reports are received after the deadline has passed and the filing of some reports may be delayed to avoid jeopardizing ongoing investigations."

Here are some of the numbers:

According to a report released today by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, a total of 1,839 orders were issued in 2006 authorizing or approving the interception of wire, oral or electronic communications. This is a 4 percent increase over the number of orders issued in 2005.

The most common method of surveillance reported was "phone wire communication," which includes all telephones (landline, cellular, cordless and mobile). The second most common method was the oral wiretap including microphones.

The electronic wiretap (digital display pagers, voice pagers, faxes etc.) accounted for less than 1 percent of the cases.

The average cost of intercept devices was $52, 551.

No applications for wiretap authorizations were denied by either state or federal courts in 2006. Seventy-nine percent of all wiretap applications approved by state judges were for just four states; 430 applications in California; 377 applications in New York; 189 applications in New Jersey, and 98 applications in Florida.

Currently the federal government, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, and 44 states have laws authorizing courts to issue orders permitting wire, oral or electronic surveillance.

Last year, 23 states and the federal government reported wiretap activity.