Investigators have tapped more phones, listened to more people. and recorded more conversations since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks not only in terrorism probes, but in traditional criminal cases, says the Arizona Republic. State and federal courts authorized 8,122 wiretaps for domestic criminal investigations in the five years after Sept. 11, 2001, marking a nearly 25 percent increase over the previous five years. Judges denied wiretap applications only twice.
The figures do not include the controversial warrantless wiretaps backed by the Bush administration as a terrorism-fighting tool. Nor do they include thousands of wiretaps in which a secret court approves warrants in counterterrorism and espionage cases. The rise in eavesdropping has civil libertarians concerned about an erosion of privacy and civil rights without any clear benefit. “There is a pattern of a steady expansion of wiretapping without a corresponding growth in effectiveness, sweeping in innocent people along the way,” said Kevin Bankston of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation. An Arizona Republic analysis of court data suggests declining effectiveness in criminal wiretaps. The number of people convicted within three years of a wiretap has fallen 18 percent since Sept. 11, 2001, while the number of people arrested slipped 8 percent.