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2011 Wiretap Report Shows Decrease in Requests for Authorized Intercepts

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Federal and state applications for orders authorizing or approving the interception of wire, oral or electronic communications, known as wiretaps, dropped 14 percent in 2011, compared to the number reported in 2010. The interceptions are reported in the 2011 Wiretap Report, released today by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AOUSC). Wiretap reports are available online.

The 2011 report covers intercepts concluded between January 1, 2011, and December 31, 2011. A total of 2,732 intercept applications were authorized in 2011 by federal and state courts, with 792 applications by federal authorities and 1,940 applications by 25 states that provide reports. In addition, two federal wiretap applications reported this year for a previous reporting period were denied.

The number of applications reported as approved by federal judges fell 34 percent in 2011, and the number of applications reported as approved by state judges fell 2 percent, as compared to 2010. The reduction in wiretaps resulted primarily from a drop in applications for intercepts in narcotics offenses.

Wiretap applications in California, New York, and New Jersey accounted for 62 percent of all applications approved by state judges. "Portable device," a category that includes cellular telephones and digital pagers, was the most frequently noted monitored location in wiretap applications. In 2011, 98 percent, or 2,674, of all authorized wiretaps were designated as portable devices. The most common surveillance method was wire surveillance that used a telephone – land line, cellular, cordless or mobile. Telephone wiretaps accounted for 96 percent (2,092 cases) of the intercepts installed in 2011, the majority of which involved cellular telephones.

Eighty-five percent of all applications for intercepts (2,334 wiretaps) in 2011 cited illegal drugs as the most serious offense under investigation. As of December 31, 2011, a total of 3,547 persons had been arrested and 465 persons convicted as a result of all interceptions reported as terminated. Federal wiretaps were responsible for 28 percent of the arrests and 10 percent of the convictions arising from wiretaps for this period.

By statute, the AOUSC is required to report to Congress the number and nature of federal and state applications for orders authorizing or approving the interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications. Each federal and state judge is required to file a separate written report with the AOUSC on each application for a court order authorizing the interception of a wire, oral or electronic communication. Prosecuting officials who applied for interception orders also are required to submit reports on all orders that expired during the previous calendar year. No report is needed when an order is issued with the consent of one of the principal parties to the communication, or when a pen register (a device attached to a telephone line to identify the numbers dialed on that line) is used. The Wiretap Report does not reflect interceptions regulated by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

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