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Wiretap Report 2013

This report covers intercepts concluded between January 1, 2013, and December 31, 2013, and provides supplementary information on arrests and convictions resulting from intercepts concluded in prior years.

Forty-eight jurisdictions (the federal government, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and 44 states) currently have laws that authorize courts to issue orders permitting wire, oral, or electronic surveillance. Table 1 shows that a total of 28 jurisdictions reported using at least one of these types of surveillance as an investigative tool during 2013.

Summary and Analysis of Reports by Judges

The number of federal and state wiretaps reported in 2013 increased 5 percent from 2012. A total of 3,576 wiretaps were reported as authorized in 2013, with 1,476 authorized by federal judges and 2,100 authorized by state judges. Compared to the applications approved during 2012, the number approved by federal judges increased 9 percent in 2013, and the number approved by state judges rose 3 percent. One state wiretap application was denied in 2013.

In 27 states, a total of 142 separate local jurisdictions (including counties, cities, and judicial districts) reported wiretap applications for 2013. Applications in California, New York, Nevada, New Jersey, Georgia, and Florida accounted for 80 percent of all applications approved by state judges. Eighty federal jurisdictions submitted reports for 2013. The Southern District of California authorized the most federal wiretaps, approximately 8 percent of the applications approved by federal judges.

Federal judges and state judges authorized 1,097 wiretaps and 101 wiretaps, respectively, for which the AO received no corresponding data from prosecuting officials. Wiretap Tables A-1 and B-1 (which will be available after July 15, 2014; sign up to receive an email alert when they are published) contain information from all judge and prosecutor reports submitted for 2013. The entry “NP” appears in these tables whenever a prosecutor’s report was not submitted. Some of the prosecutors’ reports were received too late to include in this document, and some prosecutors may have delayed filing reports to avoid jeopardizing ongoing investigations. Information about these wiretaps should appear in future reports.

Intercept Orders, Extensions, and Locations

Table 2 presents the number of intercept orders issued in each jurisdiction that provided reports, the number of extensions granted, the average lengths of the original periods authorized and any extensions, the total number of days in operation, and the locations of the communications intercepted. Most state laws limit the period of surveillance under an original order to 30 days. This period, however, can be lengthened by one or more extensions if the authorizing judge determines that additional time is justified.

During 2013, the average length of an original authorization was 30 days, the same as in 2012. In total, 2,129 extensions were requested and authorized in 2013, an increase of 10 percent. The average length of an extension was 30 days, one day longer than in 2012. For federal intercepts terminated in 2013, the longest intercept occurred in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where the original order was extended four times to complete a 143-day wiretap used in a narcotics investigation. The longest state wiretap, which was used in a counterfeiting investigation conducted by Queens County, New York, was employed for 576 days.

The most frequently noted location in wiretap applications was “portable device,” a category that includes cellular telephones and digital pagers. In recent years, the number of wiretaps involving fixed locations has declined as the use of mobile communications, including text messaging from cellular telephones, has become increasingly widespread. In 2013, a total of 97 percent (3,455 wiretaps) of all authorized wiretaps were designated as portable devices.

Prosecutors, upon showing probable cause to believe that the party being investigated is avoiding intercepts at a particular site, may use relaxed specification or “roving” wiretaps to target specific persons by using electronic devices at multiple locations rather than at a specific telephone or location (see 18 U.S.C. § 2518(11)). In 2013, 11 federal wiretaps and 5 state wiretaps were designated as roving.

Criminal Offenses

Drug offenses were the most prevalent type of criminal offense investigated using wiretaps. Table 3 indicates that 87 percent of all applications for intercepts (3,115 wiretaps) in 2013 cited illegal drugs as the most serious offense under investigation. “Other major offenses,” a category that includes smuggling and money laundering, was the second-largest category and was specified as the most serious offense in approximately 4 percent of applications. Homicide, the third-most frequently cited crime, was specified in less than 4 percent of applications. Many applications for court orders revealed that multiple criminal offenses were under investigation, but Table 3 includes only the most serious criminal offense listed on an application.

Lengths and Numbers of Intercepts

In 2013, for reported intercepts, installed wiretaps were in operation for an average of 40 days, 1 day above the average in 2012. The federal wiretap with the most intercepts occurred in the Northern District of Illinois, where a narcotics investigation involving text messaging resulted in the interception of 136,378 messages over 90 days, including 36,244 incriminating interceptions. The state wiretap with the most intercepts was a 194-day wiretap for a narcotics investigation in Gwinnett County, Georgia, which resulted in the interception of 187,091 cell phone conversations and text messages. Thirteen percent of the messages that were intercepted were incriminating.


The number of state wiretaps in which encryption was encountered increased from 15 in 2012 to 41 in 2013. In nine of these wiretaps, officials were unable to decipher the plain text of the messages. Encryption was also reported for 52 state wiretaps that were conducted during previous years, but reported to the AO for the first time in 2013. Officials were able to decipher the plain text of the communications in all 52 intercepts.

Cost of Intercepts

Table 5 provides a summary of expenses related to wiretaps in 2013. The expenditures noted reflect the cost of installing intercept devices and monitoring communications for the 2,069 authorizations for which reports included cost data. The average cost of intercept devices in 2013 was $41,119, down 18 percent from the average cost in 2012. For federal wiretaps for which expenses were reported in 2013, the average cost was $43,361, a 25 percent decrease from 2012.

Methods of Surveillance

The three major categories of surveillance are wire, oral, and electronic communications. Table 6 presents the type of surveillance method used for each intercept installed. The most common method reported was wire surveillance that used a telephone (land line, cellular, cordless, or mobile). Telephone wiretaps accounted for 93 percent (2,158 cases) of the intercepts installed in 2013, the majority of them involving cellular telephones.

Arrests and Convictions

Data on individuals arrested and convicted as a result of interceptions reported as terminated are presented in Table 6. As of December 31, 2013, a total of 3,744 persons had been arrested (one more than in 2012), and 709 persons had been convicted (up 56 percent from 2012). Federal wiretaps were responsible for 17 percent of the arrests and 8 percent of the convictions arising from wiretaps for this period. The District of Maryland reported the largest number of arrests (56) for a federal jurisdiction, and the Middle District of Florida reported the most convictions (16). The Western District of Oklahoma reported the most arrests for an individual federal wiretap in 2013. A wiretap used in a narcotics investigation in that district resulted in the arrest of 44 individuals.

At the state level, Riverside County, California, reported the largest number of arrests (250), followed by the State Attorney General’s Office in Arizona (201). Clark County, Nevada, had the highest number of convictions (78) for any state jurisdiction in 2013. A state wiretap in the 17th Judicial District of Colorado led to the arrest of 88 individuals on narcotics charges.

Summary of Reports for Years Ending December 31, 2003, through December 31, 2013

Table 7 presents data on intercepts reported each year from 2003 to 2013. Authorized intercept applications reported by year increased 100 percent from 1,789 in 2003 to 3,576 in 2013 (the total for 2003 was revised after initial publication). The majority of wiretaps have consistently been used for narcotics investigations, which accounted for 77 percent of intercepts in 2003 (1,104 applications) and 87 percent in 2013 (3,115 applications). Table 9 presents the total numbers of arrests and convictions resulting from intercepts terminated in calendar years 2003 through 2013.

Supplementary Reports

Under 18 U.S.C. § 2519(2), prosecuting officials must file supplementary reports on additional court or police activity occurring as a result of intercepts reported in prior years. Because many wiretap orders are related to large-scale criminal investigations that cross county and state boundaries, supplemental reports are necessary to fulfill reporting requirements. Arrests, trials, and convictions resulting from these interceptions often do not occur within the same year in which the intercepts were first reported. Table 8 shows that a total of 4,922 arrests, 2,875 convictions, and additional costs of $62,888,319 arose from and were reported for wiretaps completed in previous years. Fifty-seven percent of the supplemental reports of additional activity in 2013 involved wiretaps terminated in 2012. Interceptions concluded in 2012 led to 40 percent of arrests, 41 percent of convictions, and 39 percent of expenditures noted in the supplementary reports.

Appendix Tables
Title Publication Table Number Reporting Period Publication Name
Intercepts of Wire, Oral, or Electronic Communications Authorized by U.S. District Courts and Terminated Wire A1 December 31, 2013 Wiretap Download Table Wire A1—Appendix Tables Wiretap (December 31, 2013) (xlsx, 341.3 KB)
Intercepts of Wire, Oral, or Electronic Communications Authorized by State Courts and Terminated Wire B1 December 31, 2013 Wiretap Download Table Wire B1—Appendix Tables Wiretap (December 31, 2013) (xlsx, 364.11 KB)
Title Publication Table Number Reporting Period Publication Name
Jurisdictions with Statutes Authorizing the Interception of Wire, Oral, or Electronic Communications Effective Wire 1 December 31, 2013 Wiretap Download Table Wire 1—Wiretap Wiretap (December 31, 2013) (pdf, 40.03 KB)
Intercept Orders Issued by Judges Wire 2 December 31, 2013 Wiretap Download Table Wire 2—Wiretap Wiretap (December 31, 2013) (pdf, 45.16 KB)
Major Offenses for Which Court-Authorized Intercepts Were Granted Wire 3 December 31, 2013 Wiretap Download Table Wire 3—Wiretap Wiretap (December 31, 2013) (pdf, 29.51 KB)
Interceptions of Wire, Oral, or Electronic Communications Wire 4 December 31, 2013 Wiretap Download Table Wire 4—Wiretap Wiretap (December 31, 2013) (pdf, 33.7 KB)
Average Cost per Order Wire 5 December 31, 2013 Wiretap Download Table Wire 5—Wiretap Wiretap (December 31, 2013) (pdf, 23 KB)
Types of Surveillance Used, Arrests, and Convictions for Intercepts Installed Wire 6 December 31, 2013 Wiretap Download Table Wire 6—Wiretap Wiretap (December 31, 2013) (pdf, 31.27 KB)
Authorized Intercepts Granted Wire 7 December 31, 2013 Wiretap Download Table Wire 7—Wiretap Wiretap (December 31, 2013) (pdf, 43.18 KB)
Supplementary Data for Intercepts Terminated in Prior Years as Reported Wire 8 December 31, 2013 Wiretap Download Table Wire 8—Wiretap Wiretap (December 31, 2013) (pdf, 470.44 KB)
Arrests and Convictions Resulting from Intercepts Installed Wire 9 December 31, 2013 Wiretap Download Table Wire 9—Wiretap Wiretap (December 31, 2013) (pdf, 38.79 KB)