Wiretaps up 24 percent in 2012

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The number of federal- and state-court authorized wiretaps during calendar year 2012 increased by 24 percent from 2011, newly released court data shows.

In an annual report from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, federal, state and territorial jurisdictions report having authorized 3,395 wiretaps last year--87 percent of the time, in cases where illegal drugs was the most serious offense under investigation.

The jurisdiction authorizing the greatest number of wiretaps was the federal, which issued 1,354 orders, followed by California, which issued 719 orders.

Out of the total number of wiretaps ordered, about 74 percent were installed; each order on average intercepted the communications of 104 individuals.

Court officials also report for the first time ever having encountered encryption strong enough to prevent them from deciphering the underlying plain text. During 2012, 15 wiretap orders ran into encryption; four of them defeated decryption attempts.

Courts rarely turn down a law enforcement wiretap request, data also shows. In 2012, courts rejected two orders--two rejections in fact being the greatest number of rejections per year over the past decade, when in more years than not, courts granted all requests.

Data also shows the overall trend of wiretaps to be steadily upward over the past decade despite some occasional years of diminution. The percentage increase of authorized wiretaps in 2012 over 2002 is 40 percent.

Most of the taps continue to be applied onto telephones, whether wireline or mobile. Strictly electronic interceptions constituted only 18 of the installed 2012 intercepts, whereas 95 percent of the total wiretaps were on telephones, the majority involving cellular telephones.

Only two federal and five state wiretaps were roving wiretaps--wiretaps that follow a particular target, regardless of the communication method.

For more:
- go to the 2012 wiretap report

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