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Wiretap Requests From Federal and State Authorities Fell 14% In 2011 64

Posted by samzenpus
from the are-you-listening-to-my-conversation? dept.
coondoggie writes "Federal and state court orders approving the interception of wire, oral or electronic communications dropped 14% in 2011, compared to the number reported in 2010. According to a report issued by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts a total of 2,732 wiretap applications were authorized in 2011 by federal and state courts, with 792 applications by federal authorities and 1,940 applications by 25 states that provide reports. The reduction in wiretaps resulted primarily from a drop in applications for intercepts in narcotics offenses, the report noted."
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Wiretap Requests From Federal and State Authorities Fell 14% In 2011

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 01, 2012 @10:29AM (#40510367)

    Only that the ones done legally have dropped. I'm sure the total amount of wiretapping has gone up.

    • by game kid (805301)

      Indeed, only the ones done legally, and that the Office learns about, have dropped.

    • [Citation needed] (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's the sort of accusation that requires proof.

      • Re:[Citation needed] (Score:5, Informative)

        by poetmatt (793785) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @11:06AM (#40510555) Journal

        really? How much proof do you need?

        http://epic.org/privacy/nsl/#stats [epic.org]

        NSL's are almost never even constitutional, so "not legal" wiretaps. Yet they're on an order of magnitude higher. 2700 wiretaps vs 8500 before the patriot act and 140k after the patriot act?

        They shifted from legal methods (harder to obtain) to sanctioned but clearly illegal methods (simple to obtain, no judicial oversight, no perjury or accountability).

        • by poetmatt (793785) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @11:19AM (#40510613) Journal

          clarification: 8500/140k NSL's which can include wiretaps, 2700 NSL's before - but we're talking about 2700 *wiretaps* at the moment. That shows that the gov't has clearly moved in favor of NSL's.

        • Re:[Citation needed] (Score:4, Informative)

          by pushing-robot (1037830) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @01:41PM (#40511411)

          * FISA wiretaps peaked in 2007 at ~2400. The past few years have averaged ~1600, an increase of ~75% since before the WTC attack.
          * NSLs =/= wiretaps. From the site you linked:

          What Types of Information Can Be Obtained by NSLs?
          Telephone and E-mail Records: "Toll records," a historical record of calls made and received from land lines, cell phones, and other sources, of a specified phone number, as well as billing records associated with that number. E-mail records, including e-mail addresses and screen names associated with the requested account and the e-mail addresses and screen names who have contacted that account. Also includes billing records and methods of payment for each account.
          Financial Records: Financial information, including open and closed checking and savings accounts, from banks, private bankers, credit unions, thrift institutions, brokers and dealers, investment bankers and companies, credit card companies, insurance companies, travel agencies, casinos, and others. For a full list, see 31 U.S.C. 5312(2).
          Credit Information: Full credit reports, names and addresses of all financial institutions at which the consumer has maintained an account, and identifying information of a consumer (limited to name, address, former addresses, and past and current employers).

          * You're comparing the number of NSLs in a single year to the number of NSLs in three years put together.
          * Those three years are 2003-2005. According to more recent information: [go.com]

          The new Justice Department letter dated April 30, 2012 also notes that the FBI issued 16,511 National Security Letters (NSL) to obtain certain records and information in investigations. The letter asserts that the requests were for investigations relating to 7,201 different US persons. The number of National Security Letters declined dramatically from 2010 when the FBI had sought 24,287 NSLs.

          You might want to adjust that tinfoil hat; it seems to be cutting off circulation to your brain.

      • by zoloto (586738)
        NSA Datacenter in Utah will be finished soon. Watch them plummet 50% after that.
    • by nurb432 (527695)

      Bingo, its all in how you want to twist the numbers.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Creepy (93888)

      The NSA can legally wiretap anyone without a warrant as long as they make up a reasonable story for why they were wiretapping that person (they have Al Quida on speeddial! [because we planted it there]), and then share it with the FBI.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NSA_warrantless_surveillance_controversy [wikipedia.org]

    • by simpsop (413073)
      Couldn't agree more! The number of actual wiretaps has probably doubled, they just "forgot" to request permission for the new ones, plus 14% of the normal ones.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 01, 2012 @10:30AM (#40510371)

    Why muck around with asking for permission when the phone companies are more than happy to preinstall malware for you and be very cooperative as long as you don't mess with their business?

  • Why would you go through the work of getting authorization when you can just call the person a "terrorist" and tap their phones without a warrant?

    • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Sunday July 01, 2012 @10:35AM (#40510401)

      The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 clearly specifies that an properly adjudicated, individualized warrant from a court is required to collect, process, analyze, store, or disseminate the content of the communications of a US Person. While it seems to be common belief that you can just "call someone a terrorist and tap their phones," this is in fact false.

      If you think the government will just ignore the law and do whatever it wants anyway, then any discussion of the law is moot.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        If you think the government will just ignore the law and do whatever it wants anyway, then any discussion of the law is moot.

        Except that we aren't talking about what's legal, we're talking about the actions that law enforcement are taking. If they are ignoring the law then it is entirely relevant to the point of conversation about how many wiretappings are actually taking place.

      • by Bob9113 (14996) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @11:17AM (#40510603) Homepage

        If you think the government will just ignore the law and do whatever it wants anyway, then any discussion of the law is moot.

        Actually, that is when it is most important to discuss the law; to document the non-compliance as a part of the cultural record and to bring it to raise it as an issue to those in government who are supposed to act as the correcting force.

        It is the natural course of governments to seek to do what they think is in the best interests of the citizenry. It is also the nature of the people who embody government to realize that they could do more good for the people if they were uninhibited by law. Finally, it is the nature of government on our scale to have some secrets in order to operate effectively.

        Given that humans are fallible and subject to distorted perception, it is the nature of such a system for abuses to occur. Each time such an abuse occurs, it either leads to correction or reinforcement of the behavior. Correction if they are punished, reinforcement if they are not.

        In the United States, The People are the ultimate sovereigns. We are the ones who have to ensure that the government acts in the interest of the nation. We do that by correcting the government when its internal mechanisms fail to do the job. When the government ignores the law and its internal mechanisms fail to correct it, it is our most important patriotic duty to discuss it, to vote them out if they do not listen, to formally demand redress if we elect those who promise correction and they fail to do so, and to remove them by force if they deny the authority of petition for redress. Each subsequent step is significantly more costly than the one before. The least costly one is discussion.

        Discussing lawlessness in government is not frivolous. On the contrary, discussion is the first and least costly means to avoiding the bloody mess of revolution. Denial of such lawlessness or inhibiting the discussion thereof is a path to escalation.

      • If you think the government will just ignore the law and do whatever it wants anyway
        Hmmm, must not have heard yet about the Obamacare ruling this past week...
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by PopeRatzo (965947)

        The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 clearly specifies that an properly adjudicated, individualized warrant from a court is required to collect, process, analyze, store, or disseminate the content of the communications of a US Person.

        And law enforcement says, "Who cares?"

        If you think the government will just ignore the law and do whatever it wants anyway, then any discussion of the law is moot.

        Any discussion of the law is moot.

        Come on, a show of hands: Who believes that surveillance of communications has gone d

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 clearly specifies that an properly adjudicated, individualized warrant from a court is required to collect, process, analyze, store, or disseminate the content of the communications of a US Person.

        Except for those 7 days when they don't need a warrant.

        If you think the government will just ignore the law and do whatever it wants anyway, then any discussion of the law is moot.

        You mean like that time they were spying on everyone, got caught, [eff.org] then passed FISA to make it all OK and prevent anyone from suing them?

        Seriously.. just read it. [wikipedia.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Admitted wiretaps have dropped.

    But not the other kind [wired.com]

  • Thank you, Internet (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Whatsmynickname (557867) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @10:34AM (#40510395)

    The cynical side in me says: Thanks to the Internet, everyone (not just law enforcement) now has wiretap capabilities far far beyond what they could do just 10-20 years ago. ANYONE can now track anything beyond their wildest dreams. Wiretaps are going the way of brick-and-mortar store, print shops, and rotary dial telephones.

  • So... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @10:36AM (#40510407)
    Is this just because criminals are now using Internet services, and the service operators are just cooperating with law enforcement and providing a loophole in the wiretap process?
  • So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Thaelon (250687) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @10:41AM (#40510443)

    Did they do it less, or stop asking for permission?

    • by tanujt (1909206)
      Natural Pohlice
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Did they do it less, or stop asking for permission?

      Also consider the additive nature of some orders and requests.

      1000 new taps last year.
      1000 new taps this year.
      =======
      2000 total taps.

      Duration is an important metric in this discussion.

  • by JustOK (667959)

    They only need to ask for one wiretap that covers everyone (well, a "different" 99%, but...)

  • by ciggieposeur (715798) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @11:45AM (#40510727)

    I thought the whole point of wiretapping was to catch dangerous criminals like drug lords. With this 14% reduction, does that mean they are abandoning crime as an excuse and just wiretapping run-of-the-mill citizens now?

  • by guttentag (313541) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @11:49AM (#40510739) Journal
    Wow! And the new NSA data center [wired.com] that's-so-big-the-town-they're-building-it-in-had-to-expand-its-boundaries in Utah isn't even online yet! Just imagine how infrequently they'll need to bother the courts after it opens next year. Eventually judges may be able to go back to their original mission of hearing cases, unmolested by the petty need to approve wiretaps.
  • by Livius (318358) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @12:01PM (#40510809)

    And when they've finished tapping everyone, the requests for new taps will drop to nearly zero!

  • by Vulcanworlds (2628215) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @01:24PM (#40511333)
    The linked article states: "3,547 persons had been arrested and 465 persons convicted". Is there anyway to figure out what these people were arrested/convicted for? I think Americans would be a hair more understanding if the types of crimes where all related to national security, but it states 85% drug related, I'm guessing bigwigs? so 15% everything else, including national security. It's such a gross break of privacy for a sector of crimes that shouldn't be at the top of America's issues.
  • Wiretaps are notorious for being needle in the haystack type of operations. Instead the police have to use human capital as they did in the past before widespread and easy wiretap became commonplace.
  • from the article:
    Wiretap applications in California, New York, and New Jersey accounted for 62% of all applications approved by state judges.

    seriously what the fuck is wrong with these three states keep on re-appearing on lists as "most unfree fascist shitholes" from various sources time and time again
  • "Wiretap requests" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by doston (2372830) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @06:16PM (#40512641)
    That hardly means wiretaps in general. For all I know, they're just emboldened to the point of not bothering with red tape. Where I worked (ex telecom engineer), the feds weren't obliged to present any special documents. The services I managed had a simple URL and a simple login/password where the government could login and look at customer data at any time.
  • Some time ago some sensible folks pointed out that there is no such thing as "cyber crime" just "crime". For the very same reasons, there really is no such thing as "your rights online", just "your rights" and I'd like to remind everyone that the concept of "rights" is not the same everywhere.
    • and I'd like to remind everyone that the concept of "rights" is not the same everywhere.

      I don't know about that one. The magical rights fairy is pretty consistent.

      • If I get on a plane and travel about 4 hours, I'd find myself with far fewer rights than I enjoy where I am now. Online, offline has nothing to do with it at all.

"Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago." -- Bernard Berenson

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