Wiretap Report Says Courts Are Seeing Fewer Wiretap Requests, Fewer Convictions Linked To Wiretaps

from the sure-it's-cool-to-listen-in-on-convos,-but-it-is-helping-win-a-drug-war? dept

It's time to shed a tear for federal investigative agencies. The United States Court System has announced wiretap warrants ain't what they used to be.

Federal and state courts reported a combined 23 percent decrease in authorized wiretaps in 2018, compared with 2017, according to the Judiciary’s 2018 Wiretap report. Convictions in cases involving electronic surveillance also fell sharply.

I'm not sure if this is supposed to be bad news or good news. Should we feel anything about it? Maybe dismay, because law enforcement just isn't working as well as it used to? Some sort of disappointment that wiretaps aren't turning into convictions as often as they used to in the past? A general malaise about the sheer number of inscrutable stats that government thrusts at us in an attempt to believe it actually cares about transparency?

Maybe what we should feel is some sort of gratitude the system isn't being abused quite as frequently. This gratitude shouldn't be directed towards the court system, which has been a willing enabler of law enforcement abuse. It shouldn't be directed towards law enforcement, which has repeatedly shown an ability to abuse any system it works with.

No, if there's anything that's a positive sign in this report, all gratitude for this needs to go to journalists like Brad Heath, who uncovered abuse of wiretap authorities on a massive scale in his investigation for USA Today.

For years, the DEA ran wiretap warrants through state courts in southern California. A majority of these warrants landed in front of a single judge. The DEA had California courts acting as enablers, allowing agents to bypass restrictions the DOJ places on seeking and deploying wiretaps. Having found an easy source for warrant approval, the DEA went back to the well time and time again, even as other federal law enforcement agencies expressed their concerns about the legality of this tactic.

A single courthouse in California was issuing 250-300 wiretap warrants a year until a new DA took over and put an end to this abuse. Other prolific issuers of wiretap warrants likely started paying a bit more attention when the DEA approached them, given what had been exposed in California. As Heath points out, the number of wiretaps approved in California has dropped 90% since its 2014 peak -- the year before Brad Heath and Brett Kelman's reporting ripped the lid off the DEA's wiretap warrant mill.

Despite this, California still leads the nation in wiretap warrant approvals. This is due to its proximity to the Mexican border which means most drug trafficking investigations originate there.

Applications in six states (California, New York, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Colorado and New Jersey) accounted for 82 percent of all state wiretap applications. California alone accounted for 24 percent of all applications approved by state judges.

And wiretaps are still primarily for drug warriors:

46 percent of all wiretaps cited narcotics as the most serious offense under investigation, compared with 53 percent in 2017. Conspiracy investigations accounted for 13 percent, and homicide investigations accounted for 4 percent.

In other words, it's more of the same. What's supposed to be a last resort for law enforcement -- the interception of communications -- is still used routinely in the most routine investigations.

This information is useful but it doesn't do anything to improve government accountability. That's left up to journalists and FOIA warriors since the police are never going to police themselves.

Filed Under: 4th amendment, wiretaps


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  • identicon
    Pixelation, 11 Jul 2019 @ 3:43am

    Color me skeptical

    "...a combined 23 percent decrease in authorized wiretaps..."

    The key word is "authorized". No need for a warrant when the government is tapping "legally".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 11 Jul 2019 @ 4:11am

      Re: Color me skeptical

      No need for a warrant even more so when the government is tapping illegally. You just use parallel construction (also known as evidence laundering).

      Ta-dah: courts are seeing fewer wiretap requests, and fewer convictions openly linked to wiretaps.

      I mean, all those Stingrays under NDA are not sitting on the shelf just because they cannot be used legally.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bruce C., 11 Jul 2019 @ 4:24am

    Less wiretaps...

    because they're no longer relevant? If you can get a wiretap warrant, you probably have enough evidence to search the suspect's cellphone/computers. Which are likely to contain more information about their activity than a series of phone calls.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jul 2019 @ 4:33am

    You only get a warrant after you find something. That drops the numbers significantly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Jul 2019 @ 5:37am

      Re: You only get a warrant...

      and you only GET a court warrant if you need to use THAT warrant gained evidence in formal court proceedings.

      Otherwise, LEO's can perform all the warrantless wiretaps they desire -- and no court will ever notice it -- because those secret wiretaps are never introduced into court.

      thus LEO's can illegally gather all kinds of evidence and quietly use it as pointers to more conventional evidence, building a case against somebody

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TRX, 11 Jul 2019 @ 4:58am

    No problemo. They've probably found it's simpler to just use wiretap information for "parallel construction."

    Remember, "It's not perjury if the prosecution does it!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 11 Jul 2019 @ 6:27am

      Re:

      Remember, "It's not perjury if the prosecution does it!"
      Well, it's "prosecution", not "persecution". So obviously they don't do "perjury" but "projury", shrouding the facts in the most favorable light for getting a jury conviction.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    S.A. CP Distributor, 14 Jul 2019 @ 7:32am

    re: Jon Benet Ramsey photographer arrest

    ....you get a warrant AFTER following a guy around for fifteen or twenty years, from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and injecting his porn stream with child pornography, or using any of many “redirection” programs, like Moonshot CVE type stuff.

    Then, working with uber-seekrit Infragard and Fusion Centers, deploying a Stingray at the opportune moment, as the guy visits one of the thousands of police hosted Fed-local-NCMEC child porn sites that are ALL OVER THE NET(hosted offshore in Malaysia, Thailand, etc.) that the good guys steered him into.

    Or, this guy:

    https://keprtv.com/news/local/oregon-man-facing-child-porn-charges-sold-photographs-of-jonbent- ramsey-after-her-death

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    S.A. CP Distributor, 14 Jul 2019 @ 7:36am

    re: Jon Benet Ramsey photographer arrest

    ....you get a warrant AFTER following a guy around for fifteen or twenty years, from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and injecting his porn stream with child pornography, or using any of many “redirection” programs, like Moonshot CVE type stuff.

    Then, working with uber-seekrit Infragard and Fusion Centers, deploying a Stingray at the opportune moment, as the guy visits one of the thousands of police hosted Fed-local-NCMEC child porn sites that are ALL OVER THE NET(hosted offshore in Malaysia, Thailand, etc.) that the good guys steered him into.

    Or, this guy:

    https://keprtv.com/news/local/oregon-man-facing-child-porn-charges-sold-photographs-of-jonbent- ramsey-after-her-death

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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