A report released by the Administrative Office of the US Court (AO) shows that instances of federal and state wiretapping last year were up five percent from 2012. In total, there were 3,576 reported taps in 2013, with 1,476 authorized by federal judges and the remaining 2,100 authorized by state judges.
The reports of wiretap applications came from 27 states and a total of 142 separate jurisdictions, according to the AO. California, New York, Nevada, New Jersey, Georgia, and Florida made up 80 percent of approved applications at the state level, with the Southern District of California accounting for the most federal applications at eight percent.
There were no wiretaps requested in Hawaii, Montana, North and South Dakota, or Vermont.
Drug offenses were by and large the most frequently cited criminal offense for which wiretaps were authorized–87 percent of all taps, 3,115 in total, were issued for drug investigations. “Other major offenses,” which include crimes such as smuggling and money laundering, were the second most frequently cited reason, accounting for four percent of applications. Homicide came in third, with just two wiretaps approved at the federal level.
According to the AO report, “the average cost of intercept devices in 2013 was $41,119” and “for federal wiretaps for which expenses were reported in 2013, the average cost was $43,361.”
As of Dec. 31, 2013, 3,744 persons had been arrested, just one more than in 2012. Of those arrests, just under 19 percent, or 709 people, were convicted — approximately 121 at the federal level and 588 at the state.
Using the $41,119 average cost-per-wiretap figure, wiretapping cost the US approximately $147 million last year, or around $203,000 per conviction. Since 87 percent of all wiretaps were authorized in drug-related cases, that means that the federal and state governments could have added another almost $128 million to the $51 billion annual “war on drugs” price tag, a war that has cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion over the past four decades.