Wiretap Requests Began Dropping in Middle of Last Decade

Monday, 03 Mar 2014 08:44 AM

By Melanie Batley

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Requests by the government to use special devices for secret surveillance of suspected spies and terrorists skyrocketed in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but declined significantly in the second half of the last decade, newly disclosed documents show, The New York Times reported.

The Justice Department obtained 29 orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for "pen registers and trap-and-trace" devices for phone and email surveillance in the first half of 2002, The Times said. By the second half of 2004, 184 requests were granted.

The numbers leveled off, however, by the middle of the decade, ultimately dropping to 58 in the second half of 2008 and 69 by the second half of 2012.

By comparison, just two such orders had been obtained in the first half of 2001, according to the newspaper.

The data was contained in previously classified semiannual reports to Congress from the Justice Department which were obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center. The civil liberties and technology advocacy group got the information through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the Times reported.

The trend for the use of this type of surveillance roughly corresponds with the total number of wiretap orders issued by the surveillance court over the period. Such orders surged from 932 in 2001 to a peak of 2,371 in 2007 but dropped following years, according to The Times.

The Times said that it is unclear how pen register or wiretap orders relate to the National Security Agency's secret phone and Internet surveillance program.

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