The 2008 Wiretap Report
was just released. reporting on the number of wiretaps terminated in 2008. A total of 1,891 applications were reported as authorized in 2008, but only 386 were submitted to federal judges and the remaining 1,505 were submitted to state judges. No applications were denied.
The states with the most wiretap activity are: New York (433 applications), California (418 applications), New Jersey (175 applications), and Florida (102 applications), which accounted for 75 percent of all applications approved by state judges.
Ninety-five percent of all wiretaps were conducted on mobile communications devices. Only 2% of wiretaps were conducted at a fixed residence. There were 11 "roving wiretaps," where the location of the wiretap is not discernible because the target uses multiple phones in an attempt to thwart surveillance.
It's all about the drugs apparently. Eighty-four percent of all applications for wiretaps cited a drug offense as the most serious offense under investigation for a total of 1,593 wiretaps. California, New York and Texas lead the way among the states for most drug-related wiretaps.
The New York Organized Crime Task Force gets the award for most intercepts for its 590-day wiretap in a narcotics investigation involving cellular telephones and oral communications that resulted in the interception of 168,292 messages, of which only 18,353 were incriminating. Wiretaps apparently yield only a small percentage of incriminating statements -- the average number of communications intercepted was 2,707 per wiretap with only an average of 514 intercepts per installed wiretap producing incriminating evidence or just under 30%.
Perhaps more disappointing, a total of 4,133 persons had been arrested based on interceptions, yet only 810 persons were convicted. But state prosecutors appear to be more successful in Tennessee, the leader among state intercepts in producing convictions. A wiretap authorized in the 11th Judicial District (Hamilton), Tennessee, for a narcotics investigation resulted in the conviction of 40 of the 43 persons arrested. And federal prosecutors in Ohio bagged 30 out of 31 persons arrested in a narcotics investigation. California and Arizona seem to arrest more and convict less.
Wiretaps are expensive, which may explain why orders for 28 wiretaps were approved but not installed. For federal wiretaps for which expenses were reported in 2008, the average cost was $70,536. The average cost of a state wiretap was $41,154. The significant difference in cost may account for why states do so many more wiretaps than their federal counterparts.
The Wiretap Report does not include wiretaps conducted for national security reasons under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.