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Domestic Wiretaps Down in 2008 (including FISA)

By Kristopher A. Nelson in

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Domestic wiretaps have dropped by 14 percent from 2007 to 2008. FISA wiretaps are down as well, although the reasons are unclear.

Pursuant to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, the Administrative Office of the United States Courts reports that:

A total of 1,891 applications to federal and state judges for orders authorizing the interception of wire, oral or electronic communications were reported in 2008. No applications were denied. This is a 14 percent decrease in the total of applications reported, compared to 2007.

Interestingly, 84 percent of requests dealt with drug-related investigations. Another fact from the report? Only 19 percent of intercepted communications were incriminating in 2008, versus 30 percent in 2007. The last time a wiretap authorization was denied was in 2005, and it’s been since 1998 that more than one has been denied in a single year.

These 1,891 are regular, court-approved wiretaps (both state and federal), not those issued pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (or presidential order or other secret wiretaps). In contrast, according to the 2008 FISA Annual Report to Congress, there were 2,083 applications for espionage-related wiretaps, with the FISA court denying only one such request. (Reports from 1979 to 2008 are available.) In 2007, there were 2,371 FISA wiretap requests, with three denials.

So, to summarize the numbers:

2007 wiretaps2008 wiretaps2007 FISA wiretaps2008 FISA wiretaps
2,2081,8912,3712,083

So, the question remains: why the decrease? (Or is it simply random chance?) I find it interesting that more FISA warrants were issued than regular federal and state wiretap warrants combined. Curious, no?

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