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2010 Wiretap Report Shows Increase in Authorized Intercepts

June 30, 2011

Contact: Karen Redmond, 202-502-2600

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Federal and state applications for orders authorizing or approving the interception of wire, oral or electronic communications increased 34 percent in 2010, compared to the number reported in 2009. The interceptions are reported in the 2010 Wiretap Report, released today by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AOUSC). Current and previous reports are available online at www.uscourts.gov/Statistics/WiretapReports.aspx.

The current report covers intercepts concluded between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2010. A total of 3,194 intercept applications by federal and state courts were authorized in 2010, with 1,207 applications by federal authorities authorized and 1,987 applications by 25 states authorized. One application was denied. Installed intercepts totaled 2,311.

Compared to the numbers approved in 2009, the number of applications reported as approved by federal judges rose 82 percent in 2010, and the number of applications reported as approved by state judges increased 16 percent. These increases were due, at least in part, to changes in reporting procedures and to enhanced AOUSC efforts to ensure that federal and state authorities were aware of their reporting responsibilities.

Wiretap applications in California, New York, and New Jersey accounted for 68 percent of all applications approved by state judges. The most frequently noted location in wiretap applications was “portable device,” a category that includes cellular telephones and digital pagers. In 2010, a total of 96 percent 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 97 percent (2,253 cases) of the intercepts installed in 2010, the majority of which were cellular telephones.

Eighty-four percent of all applications for intercepts (2,675 wiretaps) in 2010 cited illegal drugs as the most serious offense under investigation. As of December 31, 2010, a total of 4,711 persons had been arrested and 800 persons had been convicted as a result of all interceptions reported as terminated.

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.