Report: Court-Authorized Wiretaps Up 24 Percent

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A government report on court-authorized wiretaps acknowledges that encryption is thwarting authorities’ ability to obtain text from some communications.

The annual surveillance snapshot released Friday by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts also reported federal and state judges approved 24 percent more wiretaps in 2012 than the previous year.

A total of 3,395 wiretaps were authorized, including 2,041 issued by state judges. Two state wiretap applications were denied.

All of the Kansas and Missouri wiretaps involved drug-related investigations. Federal courts in Kansas authorized 11 wiretaps, while courts in the two federal Missouri districts together approved 102 wiretaps, according to the report.

The federal wiretap with the most intercepts in the nation last year occurred in the Western District of Missouri, where a narcotics investigation involving cellphones resulted in the interception of 34,261 messages over 60 days, according to the report.

Encryption was found on 15 wiretaps last year across the nation, the report noted, and officials were unable to decipher the encrypted messages in four of those wiretaps.

The report said this was the first time jurisdictions had reported that encryption prevented officials from obtaining the plain text of the communications since the Administrative Office began collecting encryption data in 2001.

About 97 percent of the nation’s wiretaps last year were for “portable devices,” such as cellphones, the report said. Prosecutors targeted drug offenses in 87 percent of the surveillance cases. Installed wiretaps were in operation for an average of 39 days. The report credited wiretaps for the arrests of 3,743 people last year.

It does not include data on interceptions regulated by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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