Fun Facts About Your Government And Its Wiretaps

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Pre-Obama transparency at work: the government has issued its annual report    allaboutwiretaps.pdf on the number and type of wiretaps authorized by various agencies of the federal government. The big headline: the number of wiretaps dropped 16% to 386 in 2008 as compared to 2009. State-agency authorized wiretaps -- by far the majority -- dropped by 14%.  It's hard to figure out what accounts for such a large decline, although I'm guessing that the increased scrutiny by Congressional Democrats of intelligence gathering procedures contributed to pressure on criminal agencies to make sure they were complying with the letter of the law. Note: the numbers do not include various NSA collection programs involving overseas communications.  Special NSA taps authorized by the FISA court aren't included either. 

 Which state is wiretap happiest? New York, which authorized 433 taps, followed by California, which authorized 418, followed by David Simon Productions, which... nevermind.  The average length of a federal wiretap remained constant, at roughly 29 days per tap. Remember how the U.S. Attorney tapped ex-IL Gov. Rod Blagojevich's home and office telephones? Those types of taps were the exception. Remember how the FBI tapped Eliot Spitzer's cell phone? Those types of taps made up the majority. 

What crimes precipitated wiretaps?  84% of state and federal wiretaps were authorized on account of drug-related crimes. The most active tap: a cell phone monitored by the attorneys in the Southern District of California that resulted in more than 33,000 intercepts.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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