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2012 Wiretap Report: Drug Offenses Most Frequent Surveillance Target

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In calendar year 2012, a total of 3,395 orders authorizing the interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications, or wiretaps, were approved by state and federal judges. The Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AO) is required by statute to report to Congress the number of federal and state applications for orders authorizing or approving wiretaps. The 2012 Wiretap Report and previous annual reports are available online, along with responses to frequently asked questions.

For the 2012 reporting period, January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012, 97 percent of all wiretaps were authorized for “portable devices,” a category that includes cellular telephones and digital pagers. In addition, 87 percent of all 2012 applications for intercepts cited illegal drugs as the most serious offense under investigation.  As of December 31, 2012, a total of 3,743 persons had been arrested and 455 persons had been convicted as a result of interceptions reported as terminated.

The Wiretap Report does not include data on interceptions regulated by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. The AO is not authorized to collect or report this data.

No report to the AO is needed when an order is issued with the consent of one of the principal parties to the communication. No report is required for the use of a pen register unless the pen register is used in conjunction with any other wiretap devices whose use must be recorded.

Forty-eight jurisdictions, including the federal government, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and 44 states, have laws authorizing courts to issue orders permitting wire, oral, or electronic surveillance. 

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