Courts issued over 3,500 wiretaps last year

Federal and state courts allowed more than 3,500 wiretaps in 2013, the highest number in recent years.

Federal judges authorized 1,476 wiretaps, and state judges authorized 2,100 last year — up 9 percent and 3 percent, respectively, from 2012 — according to the U.S. court system’s annual Wiretap Report, released Wednesday.

The vast majority of the wiretaps — 97 percent — were for “portable devices,” such as cellphones.

“In recent years, the number of wiretaps involving fixed locations has declined as the use of mobile communications, including text messaging from cellular telephones, has become increasingly widespread,” the report said.

The cost for wiretaps is going down, according to the report, which said that intercept devices cost $41,119 on average, about $9,000 less than the average cost of intercept devices in 2012.

The majority of 2013 wiretaps — 87 percent — were tied to applications that listed drug offenses as the most serious crime being investigated.

The following most frequent offenses listed were “other” and “homicide and assault,” which each accounted for slightly less than 4 percent of wiretaps.

While 41 of the more than 3,500 wiretaps intercepted encrypted communications in 2013, law enforcement agencies were able to decipher all but nine, the report said.

Wiretaps lasted on average 40 days in 2013, one day longer than the average in 2012, according to the report.

The report pointed to lengthy wiretaps that intercepted the most communications.

A federal wiretap in Illinois collected 136,378 text messages over 90 days, and a state-authorized wiretap in Georgia intercepted 187,091 text messages and phone calls over 194 days, the report said.