Wiretap usage up 34% in 2010

posted at 11:20 am on July 9, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

According to the latest annual report from the federal judiciary, the number of wiretaps and intercepts approved in 2010 at state and federal levels increased 34% over 2009.  That represents an increase of more than 800 wiretaps, and it surpasses the peak seen in 2007.  Unsurprisingly, drug investigations account for almost all of the requests:

Here’s some more fun facts from the report:

  • Of all the applications for wiretap intercepts, 84 percent (2,675) cited illegal drugs as the most serious offense under investigation. The top three state wiretaps resulting in the most arrests were all narcotics related.
  • The average cost of a wiretap was $50,085, down 4 percent from 2009.
  • The average number of persons whose communications were intercepted rose from 113 per wiretap order in 2009 to 118 per wiretap order in 2010.
  • Only 26 percent of intercepted communications in 2010 were incriminating. Only one request for authorization was denied.
  • The top three states with approved wiretap applications were California, New York and New Jersey.

There isn’t any kidding about the top three states, either.  California accounted for a third of all state requests (33%), with New York accounting for almost a quarter (24%) and New Jersey getting the bronze at 11%.  These three states account for 68% of all state wiretap requests.  New York and New Jersey have well-known problems with organized crime, but why is California — with a population just slightly larger than New York — surpassing both by such a large amount?  Most likely, violent gang-related drug trafficking is the reason, but it’s a little mind-boggling to think that one in every three state-level wiretap requests comes from one single state.  Californians might want to ask whether the police are going a little crazy with the intercepts in the Golden State.

Actually, everyone should ask that question, and not just of the police.  In over 3100 wiretap requests, only one judge — one — bothered to deny a request from police, even though only 26% of intercepts provided any incriminating information in the end.  I’m not philosophically opposed to wiretaps if actual probable cause exists for law enforcement to pursue them, but given that the average number of individuals who unknowingly lose their privacy per wiretap has risen to 118, and only 26% of those orders provide any kind of usable evidence, it sounds like a pretty bad trade in terms of privacy.  Put those numbers together, and we end up with 278,900 citizens having their privacy invaded in vain in 2010.  That’s roughly the population of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Clearly, we have a problem with the use of wiretaps — and the problem is getting worse.  Here’s the chart from the report showing the growth of wiretap requests over the last twelve years, and note that this data does not include national-security wiretaps, which go through FISA courts:

Note that wiretaps have increased significantly at both levels — but look at the rapid growth of federal wiretaps over the last three years.  The total for 2010 far exceeds the most active year of the Bush administration, which had been widely criticized for its use of wiretaps (with and without warrants) in national-security investigations.  After 2004, which was only slightly above the 2000-2 level, federal wiretaps declined steadily — until 2009.   The Obama administration has vastly expanded the use of intercepts in non-FISA applications.

As Glenn Reynolds says, they told me if I voted for John McCain, Big Brother would be snooping more and more — and they were right!  The Obama administration needs to explain this vastly-expanded use of intercepts, especially given their success rate, and their motivation for aggressively pursuing wiretaps.

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Change!

IrishEi on July 9, 2011 at 11:27 AM

Notice, too, the “Big 3″ are blue states.

cartooner on July 9, 2011 at 11:30 AM

The Obama admin. is running Ca.?

“The Obama administration needs to explain this vastly-expanded use of intercepts, especially given their success rate, and their motivation for aggressively pursuing wiretaps.”

FOWG1 on July 9, 2011 at 11:30 AM

Problem? No problem. Slap those GPS tracking devices, sans warrants, on their cars out in CA. Too, those “gangs” are composed of illegal immigrants, so that probably explains the large number in CA. Illegals constitute what, 50% of CA’s population now?

Meanwhile, I wonder how those 13 SoCal counties’ secession movement is coming along.

JimP on July 9, 2011 at 11:31 AM

Funny. I used the dreaded ‘S’(not excrement. Has to do with leaving the union) word in a previous post which is now being reviewed by the ‘censor’ and thus hasn’t appeared- so far. Yet in the last week I have read numerous, blatant profane words spelled correctly. Ah, political correctness.

JimP on July 9, 2011 at 11:34 AM

Obama’s nom de plume – RUST[T] – Regulation, Uncertainty, Spending, Taxes and [Tapping]

Lon Chaney on July 9, 2011 at 11:35 AM

Joke’s on me. LOL

JimP on July 9, 2011 at 11:35 AM

If a president’s a liberal, socialist, dictator-wannabe, wars and wiretaps are no problema. Move along, nothing to see here.

TXUS on July 9, 2011 at 11:40 AM

Given its size you’d think Texas would be up there too.

Which ones are not like the other?

clement on July 9, 2011 at 11:43 AM

Hopey!

Changey!!

BallisticBob on July 9, 2011 at 11:44 AM

Unsurprisingly, drug investigations account for
almost all of the requests

What not tea party members…Oh they don’t need any proof of the terrorist activity from the tea party they and the MSM just say it and the is all the proof they need.

tjexcite on July 9, 2011 at 11:49 AM

What’s the big deal? I KNOW if this were something eeeeevil, the Lame Stream Media would be on it, 24/7. I think you Tea Party folks are just paranoid.

\sarc\off

oldleprechaun on July 9, 2011 at 11:54 AM

“but why is California — with a population just slightly larger than New York — surpassing both by such a large amount?”

I certainly share your concern about wiretapping, but you might want to revisit your definition of “slightly” when we’re talking about 37,253,956 people versus 19,378,102 –which comes close to doubling the New York numbers. Aside from Texas, no other state even hits the 20 million mark.

JM Hanes on July 9, 2011 at 12:04 PM

How can law enforcement raise the percentage of incriminating conversations held by drug dealers?

Hardest hit by the news are criminals and HA readers.

Maybe some of the states where crime is running rampant should up their number of wire taps.

This is one of those threads where right and left wing nuts can be equally outraged over Big Brother watching them.

walkingboss on July 9, 2011 at 12:04 PM

Given the current administrations ‘honesty and openness’, I would not be surprised to find that many wiretaps are for political reasons……er….ah….tracking down “terrorists”.

GarandFan on July 9, 2011 at 12:06 PM

Another case of Human Laws causing the problems and expenses. All drugs should be legal…from heroin to placebos, and from crack to coffee. Want to get hard on criminals, make tax cheating a capital offense, and speeding a felony with a 20 year minimum prison sentence.

Karmi on July 9, 2011 at 12:07 PM

In over 3100 wiretap requests, only one judge — one — bothered to deny a request from police, even though only 26% of intercepts provided any incriminating information in the end.

Liberty needs to be defended right here where Ed identified the assault.

ted c on July 9, 2011 at 12:10 PM

Chavez OJesus Cloward Piven Nixon Mao Alinsky Jeremiah Wright Carter Hoover all rolled into one President.

Lucky us!

PappyD61 on July 9, 2011 at 12:11 PM

Well, when a state arrests someone for drug violations, especially trafficking or selling, the state gets to confiscate all their assets even before there has been a trial or guilty verdict.

It’s an investment for them, they need the money.

Jvette on July 9, 2011 at 12:27 PM

11 Million divided by 1.2 Million = Big Dent

300,000 wiretaps. Say 100 to 200 to monitor and summarize.

Time to process an illegal = 50 hours.

Don’t do this privacy invasion program and look! Maybe 600 to 1.2 million illegals gone. Per year.

Although I know it is not this simple and cops hate ICE work. Which is why we need bounty hunters.

IlikedAUH2O on July 9, 2011 at 12:27 PM

Well how can you compile an enemies list without a little innocent wiretapping going on? Drug related? Yep, tell the judge that and he signs permission everytime -it’s that any means to an end thingy?

Who knows what really is going on, but with what we do know, we can only surmise the rest from that.

Didn’t this White house at one point start collecting
e-mail numbers?

Don L on July 9, 2011 at 12:33 PM

Thank you President Obama.
 
crr6 on May 1, 2011 at 10:45 PM

rogerb on July 9, 2011 at 12:39 PM

This is why I don’t have GPS on my car.

SouthernGent on July 9, 2011 at 12:40 PM

Well how will they know who to shake down for donations if they don’t wire tap?

Socmodfiscon on July 9, 2011 at 12:44 PM

The Obama admin. is running Ca.?

“The Obama administration needs to explain this vastly-expanded use of intercepts, especially given their success rate, and their motivation for aggressively pursuing wiretaps.”

FOWG1 on July 9, 2011 at 11:30 AM

FBI, ATF, DEA, SS etc headed by DOJ

AH_C on July 9, 2011 at 1:00 PM

Ed sees only one wiretap request being turned down by a judge as an indictment against the judges, I see it as evidence that the police are not asking for unwarranted wiretaps. Ed sees a 26% success rate as low, I see it as rather high. One man has a business phone, a cell phone and a home phone. I get taps on all three. He only uses one for illicit activity. Voila, only a 33% success rate. Nevertheless, I had the right guy at the right time for the right reasons. It is not fair to expect the police to have all the facts before an investigation is complete so you are going to have misses.

KW64 on July 9, 2011 at 1:06 PM

Obviously, too many judges rubber stamp search warrants, and the problem has been ongoing for a while. The judge who signed the Branch Davidian search warrant apparently didn’t read the application, because the affidavit was clearly inadequate to establish probable cause to search, and it didn’t even cite the correct law.

novaculus on July 9, 2011 at 1:08 PM

As in voter fraud and everything else… it’s only a bad thing if Republicans do it.

ultracon on July 9, 2011 at 1:20 PM

Ah ha! And what to our leftist friends have to say about this?

(crickets)

Rod on July 9, 2011 at 1:53 PM

Eurasia has always been at war with Oceania.

KMC1 on July 9, 2011 at 2:03 PM

where’s the outrage????

*crickets chirping*

cmsinaz on July 9, 2011 at 2:15 PM

Only 26 percent of intercepted communications in 2010 were incriminating.

We need to know the number of intercepts which were incriminating in 2009, 2008,… to understand this better.

If the rate was the same, we now have that increased wiretapping has captured 34% more criminal activity than in previous years.

In an economic downturn, criminal activity goes up. I think these numbers indicate how bad our economy is.

unclesmrgol on July 9, 2011 at 2:17 PM

where’s the outrage????

*crickets chirping*

cmsinaz on July 9, 2011 at 2:15 PM

Perhaps because some of us grew up in the era of the party line — in which — far worse than the police — your neighbors knew your business if they cared to listen.

unclesmrgol on July 9, 2011 at 2:19 PM

The Obama administration needs to explain this vastly-expanded use of intercepts, especially given their success rate, and their motivation for aggressively pursuing wiretaps.

We all know why. The dictator is doing what dictators do.

Ah ha! And what to our leftist friends have to say about this?

(crickets)

Rod on July 9, 2011 at 1:53 PM

Oh they’re all supportive of it, because it’s justified when liberals do it, and illegal, and lynch worthy if Republicans do it…and it seems to me, they don’t do it as often as liberals.

capejasmine on July 9, 2011 at 2:20 PM

Unsurprisingly, drug investigations account for
almost all of the requests

What not tea party members…Oh they don’t need any proof of the terrorist activity from the tea party they and the MSM just say it and the is all the proof they need.

tjexcite on July 9, 2011 at 11:49 AM

Well, tea is a “gateway drug,” you know . . .

Adjoran on July 9, 2011 at 2:45 PM

Ed also forgets about the location of the 3 states. 2 of three state boarders cross into foreign territory.(Canada, Mexico) Which account for a good deal of the smuggling and drug cases. And all three abut against either the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. Ed is right, but in this case, it’s Chief Justice Roberts job to remind the various federal courts to do a better job reviewing warrants.

flackcatcher on July 9, 2011 at 2:50 PM

Actually, we should be asking why the average cost of a wiretap was $50,085…

RedbonePro on July 9, 2011 at 3:12 PM

We need to put and end to this horrible war on drugs! We have police being able to enter homes without warrants because of it. We have these invasions of personal communications. We have property seizures of unconscionable scale. We have no end of violence and deaths of both LEOs and of civilians. Stop it now!

For a small fraction of the costs we could finance recovery clinics and education campaigns. We could police the roads much more regularly for impaired drivers. We could do so much for such a small part of the financial price of this unending, misguided “war.”

MJBrutus on July 9, 2011 at 3:23 PM

“Actually, we should be asking why the average cost of a wiretap was $50,085…
RedbonePro on July 9, 2011 at 3:12 PM”

Must be part of the Stimulus. They hired wiretappers at only $50K per job. That helped lower their average cost to only $278K.

JimP on July 9, 2011 at 4:12 PM

where’s the outrage????

*crickets chirping*

cmsinaz on July 9, 2011 at 2:15 PM

If you expect outrage on this issue from the same crowd that cheered the ‘Patriot’ Acts, your head is denser than a DEU round.

Uncle Sams Nephew on July 9, 2011 at 5:27 PM

Ah ha! And what to our leftist friends have to say about this?

(crickets)

Rod on July 9, 2011 at 1:53 PM

Be sure to read VDH’s latest column, where he brilliantly chronicles the Madness our friends on the Left developed between December of 2000 (when Bush had SCOTUS steal the election for him) and January of 2009 (when Recorded History actually began). He nails every false Leftist meme and every Leftist Hypocrisy from those years.

Del Dolemonte on July 9, 2011 at 6:23 PM

PappyD61 on July 9, 2011 at 12:11 PM

What, no love for Coolidge?

Freelancer on July 9, 2011 at 7:47 PM

California — with a population just slightly larger than New York

According to the 2010 census, New York’s population is 19,378,102 and California’s is 37,253,956. (http://proximityone.com/st0010.htm)

Since when is nearly double “slightly larger”?

bgoldman on July 9, 2011 at 10:39 PM

Ed,

Probable cause is a pretty high standard. It is surprising that produced only about 25% “hit” rate for evidence. What was the rate before? Maybe this is the average.

The federal blip is a bit worrisome given that we have Maoists in the White House.

AshleyTKing on July 9, 2011 at 11:37 PM

MJBrutus on July 9, 2011 at 3:23 PM

Yep. If a guy is suspected of building bombs I want some wiretaps. If he is growing pot, I just want him off the road when he is loaded.

AshleyTKing on July 9, 2011 at 11:40 PM

Ed sees only one wiretap request being turned down by a judge as an indictment against the judges, I see it as evidence that the police are not asking for unwarranted wiretaps. Ed sees a 26% success rate as low, I see it as rather high. One man has a business phone, a cell phone and a home phone. I get taps on all three. He only uses one for illicit activity. Voila, only a 33% success rate. Nevertheless, I had the right guy at the right time for the right reasons. It is not fair to expect the police to have all the facts before an investigation is complete so you are going to have misses.

KW64 on July 9, 2011 at 1:06 PM

The warrant is for the specific phone, not the person?

AshleyTKing on July 9, 2011 at 11:44 PM

novaculus on July 9, 2011 at 1:08 PM

If David Koresh is molesting kids, I’d be fine with reasonable suspicion to get evidence ASAP.

AshleyTKing on July 9, 2011 at 11:47 PM

Ed, you get more liberal, by the post.

While I’m not a fan of any of those 3 states’ governments, I really don’t see the purpose of automatically, knee-jerkingly, questioning the validity of the wiretapping.

“Only 26 percent of intercepted communications in 2010 were incriminating.”

So, what? That’s supposed to make me think they’re up to no good, or don’t know what they’re doing? You don’t know what you’re going to get, until you search. Furthermore, I know a lot of people that won’t discuss questionable (or outright criminal) subjects on an unsecured phone line. My experience as an MP taught the concepts of OPSEC to me, very well, and there are plenty of subjects I won’t discuss over the phone (especially cellphones), due to reasons of security. Just because they didn’t get anything in the wiretapping, doesn’t mean the person in question (someone already under suspicion, obviously, and suspicious enough for the courts to grant a warrant) wasn’t up to no good.

“Only one request for authorization was denied.”

Again, so what? This can be for anything. The judge could’ve been a liberal activist that has something against law enforcement (unless they serve his own purposes, like most liberals), or the police could’ve just failed to bring sufficient evidence to merit a warrant. So, what? Again, that doesn’t mean the subject was not involved in criminality.

Criminals always step up their game, because they want to be at least one step ahead of law enforcement/intelligence agencies. This means law enforcement and the IC have to do the same, but fight to pull at least two steps ahead of the criminals. Failing to use any weapon at your disposal that’s legally available is dereliction of duty. You, yourself, speculated on the nature of the criminality that these wiretaps were to address, and let’s not forget the fact that terrorists seem to love NY, as well. With California, besides its massive, self-inflicted problems with illegal aliens, you should also note that these aliens are allied, in many cases, with America-hating terrorist organizations, such as the Party of God (Hizballah), and that while muslims claims to be above drug use, aren’t above selling narcotics for profit, in order to feed their terror machines and continue attacking American citizens. I’m not going to blame Obama for this, I’m not going to say this is Bush’s legacy; I’m going to say this is law enforcement and the IC stepping up their efforts to keep the country safe from punks.

Virus-X on July 10, 2011 at 12:43 PM