State and federal wiretapping increased 25% last year, with nearly
four out of five approved wiretaps being used in drug trafficking
investigations, the Administrative Office of the United States
Courts reported on May 23. The office publishes the annual
Wiretap Report, outlining the number and nature of state and
federal wiretap applications, as required by federal law.

According to the report, state and federal law enforcement
agencies applied for 1,491 wiretaps last year. All were granted,
adding fuel to the notion that judicial review of wiretap
applications is little more than a rubber stamp. Since 1991, when
the office began keeping records, only three applications out of
12,661 have been turned down by judges.

"Drug-related crimes" accounted for 78% of all wiretaps, far above
any other criminal category. Homicide and assault accounted for
3.5% of wiretaps, racketeering for 4.7%, and gambling for 5.5%.

Lest potential criminals rest too easy thinking that the number is
relatively small, the office of the courts noted that the figure
does not include two other categories of wiretaps. Wiretaps
related to foreign intelligence and counterterrorism
investigations, which are conducted under the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act (FISA), are not included. Neither are wiretaps
where one of the parties consents to being recorded. That is
commonly the case when an undercover officer or an informant is
participating in the conversation.


Newsbrief: Wiretaps Up, Drug Investigations Behind Most, Feds