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U.S. Wiretapping Surges 19% 274

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the uncle-sam-is-listening dept.
linuxwrangler writes "Court authorized wiretaps in the U.S. surged 19% in 2004 to 1,710. Court orders relating to terror-related investigations are not included in the wiretap statistics and those warrants reached a record 1,754 last year. Apparently judges have found that law enforcement is unbelievably perfect as they rubber-stamped approvals on every single request they received."
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U.S. Wiretapping Surges 19%

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  • by bryan986 (833912) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:18PM (#12377938) Homepage Journal
    1. wire tap payphones 2. find out where my nigerian friend hid the money 3. ... 4. profit!
  • Does this include... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Valiss (463641) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:21PM (#12377969) Homepage
    ..cell phones? Can they 'tap' a cell phone?
    • The detachable battery provides a nice, replaceable module, don't you think? Assuming they can get their hands on your phone for say, 30 seconds or so.
    • by to_kallon (778547) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:28PM (#12378045)
      Can they 'tap' a cell phone?

      they don't have to. all they have to do is listen. hence, few criminals use cell phones for communications which they'd prefer remain confidential.
      ........
      or so i've....heard......:-/
    • by MoralHazard (447833) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:34PM (#12378114)
      Of course not! Feel free to keep using your cell phone for drug deals and terrorist chatter, Valiss...

      Or should I say, Bin Laden! Thought you could hide behind a high Slashdot UID, did ya?

      Seriously, though, cellular "wire" taps are trivial. They can usually go through the carrier, or they can use receiving equipment if they're in the same cell to query the cell tower and intercept you there.

      Since the advent of digital cellular, though, you need more equipment and expertise needed to tap a cellphone. So the good news is that you don't really have to worry about anyone besides law enforcement listening in, unless your outside a digital service area and your phone fails over to analog.

      I've had moments in Brooklyn Heights, in NYC (which is notorious for bad cellular reception) where I'm on the phone and I can suddenly hear the conversation of a person a block away on my phone. When I look down, sure enough, it's on analog.

      So be careful out there, kids.
    • by Monf (783812) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:42PM (#12378200)
      cell phones are tapped using the EIN number, it gets provisioned to the cop's equipment, kind of a man in the middle thing...

      not that i would know or anything, I think I saw the lone gunmen (the 3 geeks on X-Files) do it in an episode...

      they can customize the dial error messages you receive, they can route your cell-phone web browser through whatever proxy server they want, they can shut off your cell phone to piss you off, reprovision on the fly, etc... The hardest thing is to find your physical location, and thats using good old triangulation if you turn off the location awareness thingie (which isn't actually turned off, just restricts it to "Law Enforcement Personnel" or their close personal friends), and yes, they can create a hidden three-way call to a third party to listen in, or store the conversations digitally...

      Anyways, the point is that cell phones are tapped with computers, after it the signal hits the tower and gets on the land lines, not with radio receivers...

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Can you? I've done it ;) I worked on a particular government project which needed to be able to listen in to a wide range of frequencies, scanning for signals at a very high rate and then being able to tune into them. Consequently, we had to test it on all sorts of signals to make sure that it worked. Cell phone signals stick out like sore thumbs - nice, clean spikes. If I'm remembering correctly, at the time, we were only able to listen in to the analog signals, and you'd only get half of the conversa
      • by RMH101 (636144)
        ...they don't need to decrypt. all they need to do is ask the phone company nicely, and they'll hear it in the clear...
    • by Jozer99 (693146) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:59PM (#12378362)
      Yes. The wireless signal goes to a nearby basestation, where it enters the regular phone network. Tapping is pretty much as easy as for a regular phone. If they want to do more sophisticated things, like data tapping, or tapping nextel style walkie talkie features, they have to get the assistance of the service provider, but it is still not hard. Where there is data, there is a way.
    • by mikael (484) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @07:18PM (#12378547)
      Of course they can.

      Apart from your voice and data traffic, the 'mobile' part of your connection also keeps track of the signal strength from the nearest cell phone towers. This allows the operator to give an estimate of your location, the accuracy of which is dependent upon the number of towers within range.

      Since each cell phone tower is going support hundreds of phone calls simultaneously, this requires a high-speed digital data link to the nearest trunk exchange, where the call can be routed to other telephone networks, as well as the operators accounting system.

      Since the data is digital it can be multiplexed or diverted and split off in any direction. Particularly useful for voice-mail, three way calling and group conferences.

      Your mobile phone is always in communication with the nearest cell phone tower, even if it isn't actively handling a telephone call.

      There have been several cases where a suspect had been incriminated by the times and locations that a mobile phone has been used and switched off.
    • easily. (Score:2, Informative)

      by jms1 (686215)
      I have a friend who works for a large US company (no names, but it sounds a bit like "moo-sent") which makes the cell tower equipment used by several of the large american carriers, especially Verizon with their new high-speed data service. The last time I visited his office, he showed me the CALEA (Communication Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994) box from their in-house system mock-up (used for training Verizon's techs.)

      In a normal market area, all of a carrier's towers are linked back to a singl
  • in another story (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dotpavan (829804) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:21PM (#12377971) Homepage
    "We're still seeing a huge trend toward increased surveillance," said Edgar. In another story, a company called fake alibi is spreading its wings. [fakealibi.co.uk]
  • Hmmmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by cc-rider-Texas (877967) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:22PM (#12377977) Homepage
    This must explain all that heavy breathing when I call those 1-900-XXX numbers.
  • by StimpyPimp (821985) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:23PM (#12377986)
    You must understand... its just like a parent listening on their kid, to find out what trouble they are getting in... Only mom is a guy in a suit getting paid to listen to your phone sex.
  • Not Surprising (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FunWithHeadlines (644929) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:24PM (#12377999) Homepage
    "Apparently judges have found that law enforcement is unbelievably perfect as they rubber-stamped approvals on every single request they received"

    This makes a certain sense. Law enforcement, both police and judges, must feel they are on the same side and under siege by the forces of crime. After all, that's all they see and work with every day. So just as units of soldiers bond and stand up for each other, I imagine it must be tempting for judges and police to bond, or at least feel they are both working the same job from different angles. So they are probably predisposed to think the police know what they are doing when they ask for a wire-tap. Most of the time, they are probably right.

    But yeah, it sure does allow the slip-ups (and the occasional outright corruption) to get through mostly unchallenged. That's the downside, and a good reminder why a citizen should never give their governing structure any kind of power without realizing they will use that power early and often and repeatedly, and when someone becomes corrupt it will get used in a corrupted manner. And with very little in the way of real checks and balances in a practical sense.

    • Re:Not Surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

      by stinerman (812158) <nathan...stine@@@gmail...com> on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:36PM (#12378134) Homepage
      This makes a certain sense. Law enforcement, both police and judges, must feel they are on the same side and under siege by the forces of crime. After all, that's all they see and work with every day. So just as units of soldiers bond and stand up for each other, I imagine it must be tempting for judges and police to bond, or at least feel they are both working the same job from different angles. So they are probably predisposed to think the police know what they are doing when they ask for a wire-tap. Most of the time, they are probably right.

      That should never happen. The courts are theoretically independent. They are a government agency created by the legislature, but are not supposed to be on the side of anyone. They are an independent and neutral arbiter of the law (although you might not know that with the recent calls of "judical activism" when a judge doesn't judge the way someone wants them to)

      When the judiciary essentially pairs up with the executive branch, you've essentially gotten the judge and the executioner on the same side. It then follows that you are no longer assumed to be innocent. If the judges and the police are "on the same side" concepts like probable cause go out the window (see police state).
      • Assumption of innocence died quite some time ago. You are guilty the moment you are written up. It is your word as a layman or potential criminal against an "Officer of the Law". You are merely capital (cattle) in the form of fines for the general fund. The law of the land (the constitution) is for the most part chopped and diced to fit whatever the current agenda may be.

        Damn judges... I hate when they get in the way of Executive or Legislative posturing.
      • The courts are theoretically independent
        In theory, theory and practice are the same.
        In practice, they aren't.
    • Re:Not Surprising (Score:5, Informative)

      by AlexB892 (221143) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:37PM (#12378143)
      I have a few friends in law enforcement, and they tell me the reason such a high percentage of warrants are approved is because it is seen as bad for one's career to request a warrant and be denied. If a detective keeps asking for warrants that aren't justified, supervisors see it as a sign of poor quality police work, so many officers are reluctant to ask a judge for a warrant unless they know they have a nearly air-tight case.

      Also, if a large percentage of warrants were denied by the courts, people would spin the statistics to say that police are trying to over-exert their powers by asking for illegal searches. The police don't want to create that image for themselves.
      • Re:Not Surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @07:00PM (#12378383)
        Also the burden for warrants it's all that high. It's probable cause. Probable cause just means that there is enough to lead a person of reasonable caution to believe that something connected with a crime is in the location that the warrant allows a search of. It doesn't mean proof beyond a reasonable doubt or anything, just that a reasonable person would say "Ya, based on this, it's reasonable to assume that the items you are seeking are located there."

        So ya, not really supprising that most warrant applications are granted. The police don't want to apply unless they think there's a good chance of getting it, and the burden they need to meet isn't all that high. If someone credible testifies "Ya, I saw that gun at his house on the table." that's probably enough for probable cause.
      • What percentages of wiretaps lead to a conviction on the specified target?

        The articles ignores more than half of the wiretaps issued, because they were issued under FISA. Those wiretaps are much more alarming to me.

      • Re:Not Surprising (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Eivind (15695)
        There's no problem with "large percentage". There *is* a problem when in sum (terrorist and others) over 3500 wiretapping-warrants are requested, and not even a SINGLE freaking one are denied.

        Sure, most officers take care to do good police work, and manage to do so most of the time. No problem.

        But there's no way in hell that ALL police officers asking for such warrants do a good job EVERY SINGLE TIME.

        This stinks to heaven.

    • But yeah, it sure does allow the slip-ups (and the occasional outright corruption) to get through mostly unchallenged.

      See my root-level comment, below, about the slip-up issue. Basically, it's up to your defense attorney to challenge a bad warrant during pre-trial hearings. If you can undermine the legitimacy of a warrant, you can potentially get all the evidence collected on that warrant, AND and subsequent evidence collected as a result of that knowledge (phone conversations lead them to other evidenc
    • Re:Not Surprising (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 1000101 (584896)
      "Law enforcement, both police and judges, must feel they are on the same side and under siege by the forces of crime"

      They are on the same side of the law, but are completely different branches of government. In this case, the judicial branch is supposed to be a check on the executive branch, but it is hard to argue that they are doing their job with a 100% approval rate. There are very, very few private companies that do everything right, much less government agencies.

      • "By the end of the year, the surveillance had generated 4,506 arrests and 634 convictions based on wiretap evidence." That alone tells you just how wrong those applications usually are. If they had a 100% accuracy rate, every arrest that stemmed from the wiretap would result in a conviction. OUt of 4,506 wiretap-related arrests, only 634 convictions? I'll give them the fact that some arrests are dropped in exchange for use immunity and the promise to testify against someone else, but that's not as commo

        • I agree that knowing the conviction rate of wire tap suspects would be a valuable indication of the accuracy of law enforcement's suspicions. You're also right that 634 convictions in 4506 attempts would be dismal. I suspect though that the majority of the suspects have not been tried yet. I'm sure their lawyers could keep the cases tied up for quite a while arguing the legality of the wiretaps. I also suspect that rather than filing an official rejection to a wiretap request, a lot of judges just chase the
    • What has limited wiretapping in the past has really been real or perceived resistance from the public (ie. either Joe citizen sqealing or the fear that he will squeal). What these numbers really show is that the "justice system" thinks that Joe citizen has been desensitised and will not squeal.

      Even though these numbers don't include terror investigations (which are no doubt being used quite liberally [that kid who shoplifted from the Seven Eleven **might** be doing it to feed terrorists]) the net effect is

    • This makes a certain sense. Law enforcement, both police and judges, must feel they are on the same side and under siege by the forces of crime. After all, that's all they see and work with every day. So just as units of soldiers bond and stand up for each other, I imagine it must be tempting for judges and police to bond, or at least feel they are both working the same job from different angles. So they are probably predisposed to think the police know what they are doing when they ask for a wire-tap. Most
      • If a judge approves a wire tap, and only 60% or less of those warrents lead to convictions (not just an arrest), then we have a problem. A Judge needs probable cause, and for me probable cause means the police already has strong evidence the person is going to break a crime.

        How do you keep that from encouraging collusion among judges, to increase conviction rates?
      • Just so you know...public defenders are often far better than a good portion of the private defense bar, especially the private defenders that take appointements.
      • I used to occasionally have to search property (during my time as a comissioned officer). Even under miltiary law, there were plenty of conditions, i.e. if I was doing a health and welfare inspection, what was found was not relevant to criminal charges. (Normally when you do a health and welfare inspection of the actual bunkrooms in an enlisted barracks, you're looking for things like boxes of cookies and other junk food, and usually, only siezing it if it's stored in a manner so as to attract roaches and h
  • encryption (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bbdd (733681)
    guess i'd better download skype [slashdot.org]
  • by dustinbarbour (721795) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:25PM (#12378011) Homepage
    I'd hardly call that a 'surge." More like a abrupt rise. For me, a surge implies that it is an unstoppable force. 19% is not too awe-inspiring. Its like saying, oh my god.. Slashdot trolls increase by 19%!!
    • Re:OMG!!!! 19%!!!! (Score:3, Informative)

      by Phillup (317168)
      Did you take into account that it rose 48 percent during the previous 10 years?

      That is 4.8 percent a year if figured without compounding from year to year.
    • It's horrible! That means that we're up to nearly, let's see, carry the one... um, less than one thousandth of a percent of the population.
  • Nobody's Perfect (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MoralHazard (447833) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:28PM (#12378050)
    Apparently judges have found that law enforcement is unbelievably perfect as they rubber-stamped approvals on every single request they received.

    This is a little harsh, I think. First of all, the judge isn't saying "I believe that the wiretap target is guilty, therefore I authorize the wiretap." You don't have to be presumed guilty for a warrant to be necessary--there just has to be some indication that you may be guilty, the purpose of the warrant being to find out for sure.

    Second of all, the system admits that it isn't perfect because human judgement has flaws, and attempts to balance individual rights against the need for effective law enforcement. The US Supreme Court has allowed an exception to search and seizure rules called the "good faith" exception. Basically, the doctrine states that if a law enforcement officer asks for a warrant or executes a search based on a warrant, and it's later shown that the warrant was invalid (shouldn't have been issued, information was bad, whatever), the SEARCH isn't necessarily invalid. As long as the officers involved made an honest mistake, the courts say that they're allowed to use the evidence to prosecute.

    Why's this relevant? Because it shows that the point of the warrant-granting process is to check abusive behavior by law enforcement. It does its best to prevent honest, innocent people from being hassled, but it's not meant to try a case before the evidence is collected!

    It seems likely, then, that in a properly-functioning system, nearly all warrant requests will be granted. Since officers know that someone is watching and second-guessing their warrant requests, they're not likely to try to slip bullshit pretenses in. The officers know the rules in advance, and probably won't bother trying to get a warrant unless they're pretty sure it's going to be successful.

    It's the same reason why District Attorneys, nationwide, have a better-than 95% average conviction rate for cases brought to trial. If they think the case isn't going to stick, they won't try it.
    • This is a little harsh, I think. First of all, the judge isn't saying "I believe that the wiretap target is guilty, therefore I authorize the wiretap." You don't have to be presumed guilty for a warrant to be necessary--there just has to be some indication that you may be guilty, the purpose of the warrant being to find out for sure.

      If it's a normal criminal warrents. But if it's a FISA warrant, by law (Foreign Intelligence Surveilance Act of 1978 + minor USA PATRIOT Act changes) they only need to show th
  • Skype myth-busting (Score:5, Informative)

    by js7a (579872) <[gro.kivob] [ta] [semaj]> on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:29PM (#12378055) Homepage Journal
    Skype Privacy FAQ [skype.com] vs. Skype Privacy Policy [skype.com]:
    FAQ: Is Skype secure?
    Yes. When you call another Skype user your call is encrypted with strong encryption algorithms ensuring you privacy. In some cases your Skype communication may be routed via other users in the peer-to-peer network. Skype encryption protects you from potential eavesdropping from malicious users.

    Policy: Please be informed that, notwithstanding the abovementioned, in the event of a designated competent authority requesting Skype or Skype's local partner responsible towards such authority, to retain and provide Personal and/or Traffic Data, or to install wiretapping equipment in order to intercept communications, Skype and/or its local partner will provide all necessary assistance and information to fulfil this request.

    If you want real privacy, use SpeakFreely [speakfreely.org] with your own choice of encryption library.

    • Skype encryption protects you from potential eavesdropping from malicious users.

      My bet is they don't include "Law Enforcement holding a warrant" as a "malicious user". ;)

      • by js7a (579872)
        It doesn't say "law enforcement," it says "designated competent authority." In practice, after subpoenas reach a certain volume, "designated competent authority" comes to mean "anyone who sends us a fax which looks half-assed reasonable and answers their phone number 'Sgt. Fibber, Metro Police,' whereupon we will email your recordings of all your Skype calls to their hotmail account."
  • Disturbing... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:30PM (#12378071)
    What is disturbing is not the rise in wire-tapping. What is disturbing is (quoting the article): Every surveillance request made by authorities was granted.

    You would think with nearly 2000 requests, at least ONE might be found without merit, no?

    I don't usually wear a tinfoil hat, but that scares me.

    • Re:Disturbing... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by amliebsch (724858) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:44PM (#12378219) Journal
      I'd be interested to find out how many, if any, were successfully challenged in a subsequent trial.
      • Re:Disturbing... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tftp (111690)
        It doesn't have to be an evidence in a trial:

        Detective: You, boy, said last night to your friend that you stole the widget, and we have a tape to prove that! (plays the tape) You, boy, are in trouble - but if you take the following plea (introduces the plea) we will drop this charge...

        Prisoner: Oh, oh, I see your wisdom, Sir Officer, I confess... (confesses)

        The confession goes into the record and on trial, as well as the presentation of stolen widgets, recovered after the confession. The court never

        • There is, of course, the concept of the fruit of the poisoned tree, but it must be a fairly obvious path between the illegal action and the compromised evidence. For example, it must be shown that the detective would have never found the stolen widgets, with prisoner's fingerprints all over them, if he never had that tape. Even in this contrived example how can you prove that I won't dig under suspect's flower beds? What if I saw the soil as recently touched, for example? Even if I just imagined that?

          No.

  • by karvind (833059) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .dnivrak.> on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:31PM (#12378075) Journal
    A good introduction to Wiretapping and Outside Plant Security [tscm.com]

    Our old story on VoIP Wiretapping [slashdot.org]

    Interestingly in U.S., there are serious legal restrictions on the use of wiretaps by police agencies. The Supreme Court has consistently held that wiretaps qualify as searches under the Fourth Amendment.

    Article on related topic of Open Internet Wiretapping: Carnivore [crypto.com]

    IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) policy on wiretapping [faqs.org] which says: The IETF restates its strongly held belief, stated at greater length in [RFC 1984], that both commercial development of the Internet and adequate privacy for its users against illegal intrusion requires the wide availability of strong cryptographic technology.

    Another issue: Is Dialing Into a Conference Call an Interception? [virginialaw.com]

  • by PsychicX (866028) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:31PM (#12378083)
    Real patriots have their phone lines wiretapped 24/7!
  • by JenovaSynthesis (528503) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:32PM (#12378091)

    I find it hard to believe that these are just "rubberstamps" seeing aswithout any concrete evidence to justify the wiretap, any evidence they would gather from one or as a direct result from one would be not be admitted as evidence due to that whole 4th Amendment thingy.

    Plus the article gives a plausible technological reason the increase given that it takes more stuff these days to nail people. Can't exactly bust someone plotting over blackberry, etc through pre-blackberry techniues.

    • by HD Webdev (247266) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @07:18PM (#12378557) Homepage Journal
      I find it hard to believe that these are just "rubberstamps" seeing aswithout any concrete evidence to justify the wiretap, any evidence they would gather from one or as a direct result from one would be not be admitted as evidence due to that whole 4th Amendment thingy.

      That's true...if the courts haven't frozen a persons assets first. Then, the person can't pay an attorney to fight with the 4th amendment. Well, unless that person has A LOT of cash stashed somewhere.

      In Michigan, it's often the case that a person being accused of say 'manufacturing drugs' (1 pot plant will do even on a 40 acre property) will end up with all valuble assets seized before any trial. Then, when the person is convicted, those assets are split between law enforcement agencies.

      This really sucks because the defendant can't afford a decent attorney because his assets are all locked up. (Drugs may be bad, but not letting a person hire a competent attorney to prove they weren't the person who did it is worse).

      I've sat in for a few trials. And, it's been my extreme discomfort twice to have seen a judge say 'the 4th doesn't apply, your house wasn't large enough and the police were just protecting themselves and the defendant by searching for danger in the immediate vicinity'.

      If the 4th won't protect those in Michigan from judges like that, how will it help protect against unnesessary wiretaps?
  • be intresting (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Amouth (879122)
    What was our population increase in 2004?
  • I like this part. (Score:2, Redundant)

    by FreeLinux (555387)
    New York, California, New Jersey and Florida -- accounted for four of every four surveillance orders, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

    Now those are some numbers that are hard to argue with.
  • As soon as even low grade encryption becomes common the police are going to be screwed. The only reason normal phone lines arn't encrypted phone-to-phone is because it would be a hassle and would lower the quality (some sort of 56k modem in your phone, unless you can do some other trickery modulating with noise). As soon as you get to the realm of VoIP and phones have some processing power encryption starts to become something a system just 'might as well do'. Obviously man-in-the-middle would be a possibil
    • The only reason normal phone lines arn't encrypted phone-to-phone is because it would be a hassle and would lower the quality (some sort of 56k modem in your phone, unless you can do some other trickery modulating with noise).

      Well, that, and there may not be a huge demand for it. Most people don't have much worth hiding. I mean, in principle I don't want the cops listening in on my phone conversations... but really who wants to listen to my mother tell me what the weather is like where she's at and compla

      • Most people don't care about their privacy until its violated.

        Identity theft is a huge issue, if people understood how it happens.

        My wife didn't think that it was worth the extra money for the encrypted baby monitor set -- then I changed channels on the cheaper one while walking around the local townhouses so she could listen in on people's home conversations.

        She wouldn't use it anymore after that.
  • that's all? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by davidesh (316537)
    1754... that's all?
  • Silly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sheldon (2322) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:39PM (#12378174)
    Of course wiretaps went up..

    It was an election year, after all. ;-)
  • Damn right! (Score:3, Funny)

    by -Harlequin- (169395) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:45PM (#12378228)
    Looks like those paper-pushing nancy-boys down at City Hall have finally realised we're fighting the good fight down here. This is the street, man, and it ain't pretty. I don't need no panty-waisted girly-man bleating about "civil rights" and "due process", that's exactly the kind of BS that gets the bad off on "a technicality".

    "Technicality" my ass! I bagged that scumbag fair and square. If those assholes think I should have waited until I had evidence, they're living in fairyland. /not ragging on cops, just how the "renegade cop who doesn't do things by the book but gets the job done" cliche is so popular in Hollywood while so despised in real life. :-)
    • Crap, it removed my end-tags, now there's no context.

      Some of the missing context:
      I'm not ragging on cops, just having fun with the "renegade cop who doesn't do it byt he book but gets the job done" stereotype that is so popular in movies but so despised when you actually meet him in real life. :-)
  • Oh, come on (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wackywendell (852135) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @06:56PM (#12378336)
    There's 300 million people in the US, and there were less than 2000 wiretaps. That's one wiretap per 150,000 people...that seems mighty low to me, especially since I live in a drug-infested suburban town with a whopping 5,000 people which therefore had a 1 in 30 chance of ANY wiretapping at all in the past year, as I would say that my town is no more likely to have a wiretapping than the average, but I could certainly imagine one being needed. It seems to me like saying, "Holy shit! Wiretappings have risen from 10 to 100 in the US in the past year! that's a 900% increase!" It's too small for an increase of any size to make much difference.
    • I was amazed that the number was so small. Finland with a population of only 5 million people issued 1840 wiretap permits in 2003 (that is pretty scary).

      The discrepancy is so large that I'm not sure this is an apples to apples comparison, perhaps there is some fundamental difference between the systems that inflates our numbers

    • Re:Oh, come on (Score:3, Insightful)

      There's 300 million people in the US, and there were less than 2000 wiretaps.

      That's the official number, which is provided by the government. Now how many warrantless wiretaps did they perform?

      You're presuming that the government is on the level when they furnish us with these fanciful numbers. History shows that we have every reason to be skeptical of anything any government says. It is in their interest to decieve people.

      The credulity with which citizes treat these official statements is baffling

  • The Horrors (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @07:19PM (#12378560)
    "...surged 19% in 2004 to 1,710."

    1710 taps , how many phone lines in the US?
    Telephones - main lines in use: 181,599,900

    Telephones - mobile cellular: 158.722 million
    http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ us.html#Comm [cia.gov]

    340 million lines in the US.

    Should have been from the uncle-sam-isn't-listening to many dept.

    Here come the slide to Nazi Germany and whatnot posts.

    "Apparently judges have found that law enforcement is unbelievably perfect as they rubber-stamped approvals on every single request they received."
    Or maybe Judges demanded a crapload of extra evidence for the tiny number of wire taps approved.
  • look at the baseline (Score:3, Interesting)

    by corvi42 (235814) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @08:18PM (#12378982) Homepage Journal
    A common mistake everybody makes when looking at statistics like these is to forget about the baseline.

    As they said in the article, this increase is probably due to the increase in how much various kinds of wireless devices (cellphones, blackberries, etc. ) are being used by criminals. If you wanted to confirm this, you'd have to see whether there really was such an increase. Does the general population use these kinds of devices 19% more this year than last? Do criminals? Perhaps they have been increasingly using them over several years, and only now have the police started to modify their tactics. You can only build up an argument that there is in fact an increase in "big-brotherish" surveillance if the number of such wiretaps goes well beyond the "need" for them.

    More disturbing is the claim that Judges didn't reject a single request. This seems very wrong at first - especially when you have cop shows in the back of your mind where the crusading good-hearted but somewhat over-enthusiastic cop goes out searching for warrants from an old level-headed judge with flimsy evidence. It seems that there should be at least a few of these warrants which are rejected. Does are image of cops meet the reality? AlexB892 [slashdot.org] points out that it is seen as bad for a cop's career to have a wiretap requst rejected. Are cops really so diligent? Again - look to the baseline. What is the average number of rejected requests in any one year - these stats must be available somewhere. If you find that the average is only one or two rejections per year, then it seems reasonable that in any one year there might not be any at all. However, if it is much higher, you might question whether judges aren't being diligent enough in their scrutiny of the cops.

    Always take statistics with a grain of salt - they're only numbers, and can be interpreted in many ways. If they're presented in the right way, they can seem to be strong evidence for some growing trend - but you really need other figures which give you the "context" to see if this is realistic - or just somebodies rhetoric.
  • In other news, Bill Gates and Darl McBride today announced immediate availability of a product made jointly by Microsoft and SCO, codenamed Softjudge 2005 Enterprise Edition. The software will allow government agencies at all levels to streamline rubberstamping of all types of requests related to the reduction of unnecessary privacy. The software is said to control a solenoid attached to a rubber stamp of approval. The solenoid actuates each time a wiretap request form, search warrant, or other such documen
  • Is America still the land of the free? Apparently not...
  • by geekee (591277) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @09:52PM (#12379559)
    "Apparently judges have found that law enforcement is unbelievably perfect as they rubber-stamped approvals on every single request they received."

    There is no mention in the article about percentages of wiretap requests approved, so why make a baseless statement like this. Instead maybe the reason for the increase is because, as the article says:

    "Drug dealers now are making use not just of traditional cell phones but a variety of devices, including Blackberries, pagers, and Nextels. So most likely these increased wiretap numbers simply reflect law enforcement's continuing efforts to keep pace with both the tactics and technology that is being used on the street," said Barr.
  • FUD (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Moiche (840352) on Thursday April 28, 2005 @09:54PM (#12379573)
    Wiretaps are definitely scary. Personally I'm such a boring individual that if the Feds listened to my conversations they would probably become narcoleptics, but hey -- on principle -- I'd prefer they didn't listen in.

    Thing is, I'm not scared by this article. There are 290 million [census.gov] people living in the United States, and a 19% increase amounts to around 273 extra wiretaps across the country. Not scary. In fact, I'm surprised that the number is 10 times larger, given that it appears to be a small fraction of the number of crimes investigated every year that should have been wiretapped.

    Furthermore, it may interest you to know that the legal standard for getting a wiretap is rather high (which is why there are so few of them).

    Before issuing a Title III wiretap warrant, a judge must find that: (1) "normal investigative procedures have been tried and have failed or reasonably appear to be unlikely to succeed if tried or to be too dangerous"; and (2) there is probable cause for believing "that an individual is committing, has committed, or is about to commit" one of a list of specifically enumerated crimes, that the wiretap will intercept particular communications about the enumerated offense, and that the communications facilities to be tapped are either being used in the commission of the crime or are commonly used by the suspect.
    See United States Telecom Assoc. v. FCC [uscourts.gov] . So how, you ask, is it that there were no wiretap requests turned down if the standard is so high, and it's used relatively rarely?

    Simple. It's not like the police officers are going "Hey Judge, we need a wire-tap on this guy Frank 'cuz I think he's doing "crimes" -- and we need it yesterday!" What actually happens is the police officer goes to government lawyer. The government lawyer -- who does this all the time -- then tells the police officer 9 times out of 10 that they haven't met the standard. Even that 1 time out of 10, the government lawyer approaches the judge ex parte (i.e. not in a court proceeding) which allows the judge to indicate through subtle nods and grunts that the wiretap request is half-cooked, and to come back later. So you just don't get denied applications. By the way -- denied applications are the last thing the police want, because then -- dollars to donuts (hehe) when it comes time to the criminal trial, the wiretap evidence will be considered inadmissible even if the police eventually did get their wiretap.

    What Devlin Barrett, the reporter who wrote the article, should have mentioned, is how many wiretap requests were officially turned down over the last few years. But the reporter omitted this information, most likely because very few requests have been officially denied within the last decade. So the alarmist language used in the article makes it, IMHO, FUD.

    Regards,

    Moiche

  • maybe the government will reign themselves in. You know, like all those other times they did.

    They've probably got enough problems governing us without also having to be governed *by* us, you know?

    Show a little trust people!
  • by Fuzzums (250400)
    1. NSA is always right.
    2. In doubt, see rule #1.
    3. In all other cases, see rule #1.
  • Once again I remind us of

    http://tor.eff.org/ [eff.org]
    http://www.i2p.net/ [i2p.net]
    http://freenet.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net]

    and also
    http://www.cryptophone.de/ [cryptophone.de]
    GSM can now be decrypted in almost realtime, and the recieving hardware is only a few thousand dollars. Though personally I'd prefer a freeware OSS push to talk GPRS program because not many can make data calls
  • Anyone interested in wiretapping should see this. Shrub's miserable choice for UN Ambassador, John Bolton stars in this story [onlinejournal.com].

    From the story "Bolton requested transcripts of 10 NSA intercepts of conversations between named U.S. government officials and foreign persons...NSA insiders report...Bolton...had them masked as "training missions" in order to get around internal NSA regulations that...prohibit such eavesdropping on U.S. citizens.

    So, not only do you have to worry about the court authorized and re

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