Gov't Says They Requested 24,270 Wiretaps In Total; Sprint Alone Says They Received Over 50k Requests

from the something-doesn't-add-up dept

We already wrote about how Ed Markey found out that law enforcement had made more than 1.3 million requests for subscriber info last year, and he’s now published the detailed responses, which is turning up some scary information. First off, the numbers are clearly low, because (at the very least) T-Mobile refused to provide any numbers, stating:

While T‐Mobile does not disclose the number of requests we receive from law enforcement annually, the number of requests has risen dramatically in the last decade…

Perhaps more troubling may be the tidbit that Julian Sanchez noticed in Sprint’s response (pdf), in which they admit to 52,029 court orders for wiretaps:

Over the past five years, Sprint has received approximately 52,029 court orders for wiretaps; 77,519 court orders for the installation of a pen register/trap and trace device; and 196,434 court orders for location information. […] Over the same time frame Sprint received subpoenas from law enforcement agencies requesting basic subscriber information. Each subpoena typically requested subscriber information on multiple subscribers and last year alone we estimate that Sprint received approximately 500,000 subpoenas from law enforcement.

As Sanchez notes, this is problematic, because Sprint — which is just the third largest mobile operator — appears to be claiming more court orders for wiretaps than various officials reports to Congress of how many wiretaps had been sought in total. In other words, either Sprint’s definition of “wirtetaps” is different than everyone else’s, it’s number is wrong… or… someone’s been lying to Congress.

Certainly a report of 52,029 wiretaps over five years–and that just from the third largest carrier in the country–is remarkable in and of itself. But it’s also more than double the number of all wiretaps counted in annual reports required by federal law.  The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts keeps track of the number of wiretaps authorized each year for criminal investigations. The Justice Department files an annual report to Congress on individual warrants issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for intelligence investigations. (If you don’t feel like wading through, The Electronic Privacy Information Center has charts and graphs that should make it clear.) The total number of all wiretaps counted in the official reports over the five year period 2007–2011 comes to 24,270. I’ve made a table breaking it down year by year:


TITLE III (Criminal) Wiretap Orders
FISA (Intelligence) Wiretap Orders
2011 2,732 1,745
2010 3,795 1,579
2009 3,043 1,320
2008 2,631 2,083
2007 2,927 2,370
TOTAL 15,173 9,097


The obvious question: How is one cell phone carrier—and not the largest by a longshot—reporting 27,759 more wiretap orders than the official numbers acknowledge for all carriers?

That seems like a pretty big miss by someone…

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: sprint

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Gov't Says They Requested 24,270 Wiretaps In Total; Sprint Alone Says They Received Over 50k Requests”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
BeachBumCowboy (profile) says:


Those numbers in the report clearly distinguish between Federal and State requests, so that’s not the difference.
But I can offer one reasonable explanation… The numbers reported to Congress were requests for actual criminal investigations. The numbers reported from Spring and the other Telcos were requests for harassment, curiosity and just plain good old fashioned fun!!!

Minimum Wage Shill says:

did you ever stop and think that maybe the police are requesting so many wiretaps because everyone is a criminal? When we have a nation of criminals what do you expect mike? they are just doing their jobs so be happy or else crime will even be worse and no criminals will be in jail and they will be out in the streets pirating everything.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well of course we are all criminals. Our stupid legal system makes it hard to make it till lunch without having committed some felony.

It also sickens me though that in the US pretty much anything to do with drugs is a felony. Felons cannot run for president. So how is it we always have presidents that have no problem telling everyone they tried drugs when they were younger?

If our legal system actually enforced the laws 100% then we would not be able to elect a new president. NO ONE lives in the USA and has made it to 35 without committing a felony. They might not have been convicted of it, BUT they have committed one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

That is the situation in a lot of countries. The most severe cases are dictatorships, like Ukraine and Iran, but I know no civilized country where every law is applied equally for all. The questions should be about the potential punishments for the crimes you are getting away with. I have the theory that the collective potential punishment you are getting away with over a year is correlated to how authoritarian the country is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes and this is why the US is indistinguishable from a tryanny.

If everyone is a criminal, anyone can be arrested, charged and convicted of something, and deprived of their freedom at the whim of those powerful enough to trigger individually targeted “aggressive enforcement”.

The US has rapidly descended to the point where law is barely if any less arbitary than the whims of the powerful.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I thought, from my limited understanding of QM, that you can create matter or energy but the net effect is still 0.

Like you can create negative matter that has negative mass. Not to be confused with anti-matter, which still has positive mass.

Matter + Anti-matter = Mass of both converted to energy (E=mc^2)
Matter + Negative Matter = Mass of both cancel each other out, no energy released.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Uggg, I don’t think that came out as clear as I hoped.

I meant that you can create matter, but you also create negative matter at the same time.

So you are creating something and a negative something from nothing.

matter + negative matter = nothing

Not that you are creating something from nothing

matter = nothing

But then again, the whole entanglement concept is way above my head =P

A Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Our understanding of QM is not perfect yet. My understanding is less perfect than others, but it’s an interest.

Energy is infinite. Differences in energy may coalesce into matter. The crux of it is that empty space is inherently unstable. Virtual particles pop into and out of existence randomly. Given the right (unknown) circumstances, a huge wave of energy could be released from empty space creating a universe and matter with it. That’s the QM view of the big bang as I understand it.

Anyway, creating matter seems to have happened at least once before. I’d like to thing we could maybe one day recreate something similar on a smaller scale to power our society, but right now that’s more in the realm of science fiction than anything else.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I thought the QM view on the creation of the universe involved the theory that the results from experiments all work and explain physics in the time since the Big Bang, but that they can’t explain what happened at or before the Big Bang. If you take the Big Bang as T = 0 (The starting point of time) that all experiments where T > 0 work, but they don’t when you have T = 0 or T < 0. I’m guessing it’s sort of like dividing by 0.

If the universe dictates what the laws of physics are, you can’t apply those laws outside of that universe. Since the universe didn’t exist to begin with, neither did those laws, so you can’t explain what happened unless you were an outside observer which we’d most likely refer to as God.

I don’t think we’ll ever figure out how the universe was created. No more then a square would ever be able to understand what a cube was. I do think we will be able to learn more about what we can do within this universe though.

A Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Relativity says you cannot run time back to the instant of creation. QM helps explain what happens in a singularity, like the big bang. Right now relativity and QM don’t agree with each other, so our understanding of the universe is imperfect.

As for God, don’t look to science for proof of its existence or lack thereof. You won’t find a meaningful answer. Science studies the how of creation, it cannot prove or disprove the existence of a creator.

snowburn14 says:

Overlooked disturbing stat

What I find more disturbing than the discrepancy between government and telco total numbers, is just how close the numbers requested are to those granted in the government reports (from There were never more than 2 requests in a year that weren’t authorized from 2001-2011. While I understand the need for wiretaps in a great many cases, it defies belief that nearly every single tap that was requested was justified. Maybe the government is just selectively ignoring a category of unauthorized requests (which could actually explain both the % I’m concerned about and the discrepancy with the telcos), but I can’t see why they’d bother to split out the numbers if they’re really only using the authorized piece anyway…

Violated (profile) says:

That damned decimal point

They have always said…

If good news multiply the number by 10 but if bad news divide the number by 10.

As we can consider wire taps to be bad news then we can correct for this Feds adjustment by making their stated value 10 times higher or… 24,270 to… 242,700.

Now to really scare you this is most likely TRUE. If they are caught out they can just blame a decimal point slip on their computer calculation.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...