Thursday, April 28, 2005

From the AP:
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...

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.
Don't look now, but the statistics here contain a rare testament to beaurocratic coherence: roughly 75% of the wiretaps were related to drug investigations, while roughly 75% also came in the states with the most heavily trafficked ports. There are certainly other factors at play, but that ain't too shabby, especially for Uncle Sam.

The problem is, however, there's one number that's a little too cohesive: 100% of requests were granted.

Now, a perfect success rate would be one thing if the application for wiretaps was highly regulated by law. But this isn't a matter of merely having the right papers in order. In fact, the entire application process exists in a vast grey area: you don't apply for a wiretap unless you have "enough" evidence to be suspicious, but not so much that you -- or at least a jury -- would be convinced.

As a result, when it comes to wiretapping the burden of discretion falls on the judiciary.

Yet that is precisely what makes the 100% rate so troubling: since the independent oversight that the judiciary provides secures the legitimacy of the whole process, the fact that no applications were denied calls into question the independence of the judges and the legitimacy of the process overall. Either our government has excercised exceptional restraint in choosing when they apply for wiretaps, or the judiciary has abdicated its legislatively-mandated role.

Alas, given the marked increase of federal applications in particular -- 26% more than last year -- it would seem to be the latter.

Not that you can blame the judges though: after all, if they actually did do some deliberating, wouldn't that constitute inappropriate "activism"?

Update: In general I try to eschew straight-up ranting in favor of being at least somewhat constructive or informative. Now that I've re-read this though, it would seem I was too tired last night to make that distinction. To those who were bothered by it, my apologies.


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