Wiretap Report 2014
This report covers intercepts concluded between January 1, 2014, and December 31, 2014, 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 26 jurisdictions reported using at least one of these types of surveillance as an investigative tool during 2014.
Summary and Analysis of Reports by Judges
The number of federal and state wiretaps reported in 2014 decreased 1 percent from 2013. A total of 3,554 wiretaps were reported as authorized in 2014, with 1,279 authorized by federal judges and 2,275 authorized by state judges. Compared to the applications approved during 2013, the number approved by federal judges decreased 13 percent in 2014, and the number approved by state judges increased 8 percent. One state wiretap application was denied in 2014.
In 25 states, a total of 141 separate local jurisdictions (including counties, cities, and judicial districts) reported wiretap applications for 2014. Applications in California accounted for 43 percent of all applications approved by state judges. Seventy-eight federal jurisdictions submitted reports for 2014. The District of Arizona authorized the most federal wiretaps, approximately 7 percent of the applications approved by federal judges.
Federal judges and state judges authorized 962 wiretaps and 119 wiretaps, respectively, for which the AO received no corresponding data from prosecuting officials. Wiretap Tables A-1 and B-1 contain information from all judge and prosecutor reports submitted for 2014. The entry “NP” (no prosecutor’s report) 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. Federal and 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 2014, the average length of an original authorization was 30 days, the same as in 2013. The average length of an extension was also 30 days. In total, 1,532 extensions were requested and authorized in 2014, a decrease of 28 percent. The District of Arizona and the Southern District of California conducted the longest federal intercepts that were terminated in 2014. In each district, the original order was extended four times to complete a 150-day wiretap used in a narcotics investigation. For state intercepts terminated in 2014, the longest intercept occurred in Queens County, New York, where the original order was extended 17 times to complete a 470-day wiretap used in a narcotics investigation.
The most frequently noted location in wiretap applications was “portable device.” In recent years, the use of mobile communications, including text messaging and application software (‘apps’) from cellular telephones, have become increasingly widespread. In 2014, a total of 96 percent (3,409 wiretaps) of all authorized wiretaps were designated as portable devices.
Prosecutors, under certain conditions, including a showing of probable cause to believe that actions taken by a party being investigated could have the effect of thwarting interception from a specified facility, may use “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 2014, 4 federal wiretaps and 19 state wiretaps were designated as roving.
Drug offenses were the most prevalent type of criminal offense investigated using wiretaps. Table 3 indicates that 89 percent of all applications for intercepts (3,170 wiretaps) in 2014 cited illegal drugs as the most serious offense under investigation. Homicide, the second-most frequently cited crime, was specified in approximately 4 percent of applications. “Other major offenses,” a category that includes smuggling and money laundering, was the third-largest category and was specified as the most serious offense in less than 3 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 2014, for reported intercepts, installed wiretaps were in operation for an average of 34 days, 6 days below the average in 2013. The federal wiretap with the most intercepts occurred in the District of Colorado and resulted in the interception of 55,073 messages over 90 days, including 5,821 incriminating interceptions. This was part of a broader conspiracy investigation that began in 2013 and involved seven related cell phone wiretaps. A total of 301,980 communications were intercepted during the investigation, of which 34,926 were incriminating. The state wiretap with the most intercepts was a 455-day wiretap for a larceny investigation in Queens County, New York, which resulted in the interception of 350,230 cell phone conversations, of which 19,888 were incriminating.
The number of state wiretaps in which encryption was encountered decreased from 41 in 2013 to 22 in 2014. In two of these wiretaps, officials were unable to decipher the plain text of the messages. Three federal wiretaps were reported as being encrypted in 2014, of which two could not be decrypted. Encryption was also reported for five federal wiretaps that were conducted during previous years, but reported to the AO for the first time in 2014. Officials were able to decipher the plain text of the communications in four of the five intercepts.
Cost of Intercepts
Table 5 provides a summary of expenses related to wiretaps in 2014. The expenditures noted reflect the cost of installing intercept devices and monitoring communications for the 2,066 authorizations for which reports included cost data. The average cost of intercept devices in 2014 was $39,485, down 4 percent from the average cost in 2013. The most expensive state wiretap was in the 13th Judicial Circuit of Florida, where costs for a narcotics wiretap related to nine other wiretaps totaled $1,204,307. For federal wiretaps for which expenses were reported in 2014, the average cost was $44,823, a 3 percent increase from 2013. The most expensive federal wiretap occurred in the Northern District of New York and involved a 77-day narcotics investigation that totaled $752,442.
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 (2,270 cases) of the intercepts installed in 2014, 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, 2014, a total of 3,544 persons had been arrested (down 5 percent from 2013), and 553 persons had been convicted (down 22 percent from 2013). Federal wiretaps were responsible for 29 percent of the arrests and 27 percent of the convictions arising from wiretaps for this period. The District of New Jersey reported the largest number of arrests (189) and convictions (189) for a federal jurisdiction; these stemmed from an embezzlement investigation that began in 2011 and was reported to the AO for the first time in 2014. The Southern District of Ohio reported the most arrests and convictions arising from an individual federal wiretap in 2014. A wiretap used in a narcotics investigation in that district resulted in the arrest of 72 individuals and conviction of 68 individuals.
At the state level, the State Attorney General’s Office in Florida reported the largest number of arrests (261), followed by Riverside County, California (176). The State Attorney General’s Office in Florida also had the highest number of convictions (67) for any state jurisdiction in 2014. A state wiretap in the 5th Judicial Circuit of Florida, related to five other wiretaps, led to the arrest of 71 individuals on narcotics charges.
Summary of Reports for Years Ending December 31, 2004, through December 31, 2014
Table 7 presents data on intercepts reported each year from 2004 to 2014. Authorized intercept applications reported by year increased 78 percent from 1,992 in 2004 to 3,554 in 2014 (the total for 2004 was revised after initial publication). The majority of wiretaps have consistently been used for narcotics investigations, which accounted for 66 percent of intercepts in 2004 (1,308 applications) and 89 percent in 2014 (3,174 applications). Table 9 presents the total number of arrests and convictions resulting from intercepts terminated in calendar years 2004 through 2014.
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 6,118 arrests, 3,827 convictions, and additional costs of $62,634,009 arose from and were reported for wiretaps completed in previous years. Sixty percent of the supplemental reports of additional activity in 2014 involved wiretaps terminated in 2013. Interceptions concluded in 2013 led to 47 percent of arrests, 35 percent of convictions, and 52 percent of expenditures noted in the supplementary reports.
|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, 2014||Wiretap||Download Table Wire A1—Appendix Tables Wiretap (December 31, 2014) (xlsx, 347.21 KB)|
|Intercepts of Wire, Oral, or Electronic Communications Authorized by State Courts and Terminated||Wire B1||December 31, 2014||Wiretap||Download Table Wire B1—Appendix Tables Wiretap (December 31, 2014) (xlsx, 380.21 KB)|