Federal and state courts reported a combined 7 percent increase in authorized wiretaps in 2022, compared with 2021, according to the Judiciary’s 2022 Wiretap Report. Arrests and convictions in cases involving electronic surveillance decreased.
The report covers wire, oral, and electronic intercepts that were concluded between Jan. 1, 2022, and Dec. 31, 2022, exclusive of interceptions regulated by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. The report is submitted annually to Congress by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
A total of 2,406 wiretaps were reported as authorized in 2022, compared with 2,245 the previous year. Of those, 1,274 were authorized by federal judges, a 16 percent increase from 2021. State judges authorized 1,132 wiretaps, a 1 percent decrease from the previous year.
Portable devices, which includes cell phones, accounted for 96 percent of applications for intercepts.
There was an increase in the number of state wiretaps in which encryption was encountered, with 192 such reports in 2022, compared with 176 in 2021. In 179 of the encrypted state wiretaps reported in 2022, officials were unable to decrypt the plain text of messages. A total of 286 federal wiretaps were reported as being encrypted in 2022, of which 262 couldn’t be decrypted.
Drug offenses were the most prevalent type of crime investigated using intercepts. Fifty-one percent of all wiretap applications in 2022 cited narcotics as the most serious offense under investigation. Conspiracy was the second-most frequently cited crime (12 percent of total applications), and homicide and assault, the third largest category, was cited in about 5 percent of applications.
A total of 5,287 people were arrested as a result of wiretap investigations in 2022, down 36 percent from 2021, and 548 people were convicted in cases involving wiretaps, down 42 percent from the previous year.
The Northern District of Texas authorized the most federal wiretaps, accounting for about 6 percent of the applications approved by federal judges. Applications in six states accounted for 78 percent of all wiretaps approved by state judges. Those states were California, New York, North Carolina, Nevada, Florida, and Colorado.
Federal and state laws limit the period of surveillance under an original order to 30 days. However, the period can be extended if a judge determines that additional time is justified. A total of 1,358 extensions were authorized in 2022, a decrease of 5 percent from the year before.
The Southern District of Georgia conducted the longest federal intercept that was terminated in 2022. An order was extended nine times to complete a 287-day wiretap in a murder investigation. The longest state-authorized wiretap occurred in New York City, New York, where an original order was extended eight times to complete a 257-day wiretap used in a narcotics investigation.
The average cost of a wiretap in 2022 was $101,837, down 37 percent from the prior year. The numbers include the cost of installing intercept devices and monitoring communications.
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts is required by statute to report annually to Congress by June 30 on the number and nature of wiretaps concluded in the prior year. No report to the Administrative Office is needed when an order is issued with the consent of one of the principal parties to the communication. No report is required for the use of a pen register unless the pen register is used in conjunction with any other wiretap devices whose use must be recorded.
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