States and Feds wiretapping more and more

State judges approved a growing number of secret wiretaps in criminal investigations in 2005, while federal criminal wiretaps dropped 14 percent, according to court data released Monday.

Nationwide, court-approved wiretaps increased 4 percent to 1,773 in both state and federal investigations. Only one application was denied. The increase in 2005 was much smaller than the 2004 figures, which leapt 19 percent.

The Administrative Office of the United States Courts compiles the figures, which do not include ongoing investigations that spilled over into 2006. The Department of Justice said that if those cases were included, they would actually show an increase in wiretaps.

Jesselyn McCurdy, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the figures do raise worries that judges aren’t thoroughly scrutinizing eavesdropping applications.

“With only one application rejected, I hope they’re not just becoming a rubber stamp of applications for wiretapping, at either the state or federal level,” said McCurdy.

In state courts, the number of applications grew 17 percent to 1,148. Once again, four states led the way, accounting for four out of every five wiretaps in the nation.

New York prosecutors reported 391, California 235, New Jersey 218, and Florida 72 wiretap applications.

The most prolific single eavesdropper in 2004, Queens, N.Y. District Attorney Richard A. Brown, reported 18 fewer wiretaps in 2005, for a total of 118. Brown still claimed the longest-running wiretap investigation, a gambling probe lasting more than 18 months.

In 2005, the prosecutor with the largest number of wiretaps was New York City’s special narcotics bureau, with 148.

The longest federal wiretap was also in New York, where Manhattan prosecutors ran a 287-day wiretap as part of a racketeering case.

Nine out of every ten wiretaps were for portable devices like cell phones, and eight out of ten wiretaps were part of drug investigations.

Organized crime investigations and homicide cases accounted for about 5 percent each of wiretaps.

Over the past 10 years, the number of wiretaps have jumped almost 70 percent.

The figures released Monday do not include court orders for terror-related investigations conducted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act known as FISA, which reached a new record in 2005.

FISA warrants surged to 2,072 in 2005, a big boost from the past year’s record of 1,754. That is more than twice as many as were issued in 2000, the last full year before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.


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© 2006 The Associated Press