Wiretaps in U.S. Up 19 Percent in 2004

The number of secret court-authorized wiretaps across the country surged by 19 percent last year, according to court records which also showed that not a single application was denied.

State and federal judges approved 1,710 applications for wiretaps of wire, oral or electronic communications last year, and four states — New York, California, New Jersey and Florida — accounted for three out of every four surveillance orders, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (search). That agency is required to collect the figures and report them to Congress.

The numbers, released Thursday, do not include court orders for terror-related investigations under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (search), which reached a record 1,754 warrants last year, according to the Justice Department.

In non-terrorist criminal investigations, federally-approved wiretaps increased 26 percent in a year, to 730 applications, while state judges approved 930 wiretaps, an increase of 13 percent.

Officials said most of the applications, some 1,308, were for drug investigations, while racketeering or gambling wiretaps accounted for a combined 128 wiretaps around the country.

Homicides and assaults produced 48 wiretap orders.

Most of the wiretap applications, some 1,507 wiretaps, targeted portable devices, such as cell phones and pagers.

By the end of the year, the surveillance had generated 4,506 arrests and 634 convictions based on wiretap evidence.

Federal and state judges are required to file a written report about each application within 30 days of the expiration of the court order.