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If, from the more wretched parts of the old world, we look at those which are in an advanced stage of improvement, we still find the greedy hand of government thrusting itself into every corner and crevice of industry, and grasping the spoil of the multitude. Invention is continually exercised, to furnish new pretenses for revenues and taxation. It watches prosperity as its prey and permits none to escape without tribute. ~Thomas Paine

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Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts

Release Date: May 11, 1995

The total number of intercepts of wire, oral, or electronic communications authorized by federal and state courts rose from 976 in 1993 to 1,154 in 1994, an 18.2 percent increase. The information is contained in the Report of the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts on Applications for Orders Authorizing or Approving the Interception of Wire, Oral, or Electronic Communications (Wiretap Report), which was submitted to Congress at the end of April 1995.

The report covers the intercepts concluded between January 1, 1994, and December 31, 1994, and includes both state and federal intercept orders.

A total of 1,154 applications were submitted and approved in 1994. (Judges approve most applications; between 1984 and 1994 only seven applications have been denied.) State prosecuting officials made 14 percent more applications in 1994 than in 1993. The number of applications for intercept orders by federal authorities increased 23 percent, primarily due to an increase in applications involving surveillance of narcotics operations (they rose 31 percent from the previous year).

Currently, 41 jurisdictions (the federal government, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and 37 states) have laws authorizing courts to issue orders permitting wire, oral, or electronic surveillance. Eighteen of these jurisdictions issued orders in 1994. Among the states, New York issued the most orders at 367, followed by New Jersey at 59, and Pennsylvania at 52. The federal government's applications, at 554, represent 48 percent of the total.

Most of the intercepts authorized in both federal and state courts were related to drug offenses. Based on the most serious offense under investigation, drug offenders were targeted in 76 percent of the interceptions concluded in 1994. Racketeering was the offense targeted in 8 percent of the interceptions, followed by gambling in 7 percent. As of December 31, 1994, a total of 2,852 persons had been arrested as a result of electronic surveillance activity; of those arrested, 772 were convicted. However, some criminal cases involving the use of electronic surveillance authorized in 1994 may still be under investigation. Additional data on arrests and conviction will be published in the 1995 report.

Specific locations need not be included in a federal application; however, applications filed by prosecutors show that a total of 319 intercept devices were authorized for placement in single-family dwellings, 131 for apartments, and 118 for business establishments. In 473 applications, other was specified as a location, which included public pay phones, mobile phones, paging devices, and cellular phones.

Each federal and state judge is required to file a written report with the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) on each application for an order authorizing the interception of a wire, oral, or electronic communication. The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 requires the AO to report to Congress annually on the number of federal and state applications for orders authorizing or approving interceptions. The Wiretap Report does not contain the identity or exact location of any party investigated, as the Administrative Office is not authorized to collect this information.

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