To carry out a relatively unimpressive drug sting, an unnamed federal agency swept up well over 3 million phone conversations in two months with a lone wiretap order — one of 3,186 such orders issued by federal and state judges in 2016 — evincing an overreach of State authority so egregious, it would behoove the law-abiding and law-breaking, alike, to take note.
“The federal wiretap with the most intercepts occurred during a narcotics investigation in the Middle District of Pennsylvania and resulted in the interception of 3,292,385 cell phone conversations or messages,” states the Wiretap Report 2016.
Take a moment to allow that to sink in, because — given that domestic spying has become something of an accepted facet of daily American life — the fact the government felt it imperative to sweep up nearly 3.2 million calls in the course of enforcing its miserable flop of a drug war begs the question: What about the other 3,181 wiretap orders?!
And if that doesn’t sufficiently offend, keep in mind there has yet to be a single conviction resulting from that inordinately lenient wiretap, as the International Business Times reports,
“The order was signed to help the authorities track 26 individuals suspected of illegal drug trafficking and narcotics-related activities in Pennsylvania. However, the investigation cost $335,000 to the taxpayer and led only to a dozen arrests. The surveillance effort neither captured any intercepts nor did it bring anyone to trial or convicted. Other details about the wiretapping are not available since the court records have been sealed.”
Unsurprisingly, the Department of Justice refused comment to ZDNet on the Wiretap Report — or the confounding million-call dragnet in Pennsylvania.
“They spent a fortune tracking 26 people and recording three million conversations and apparently got nothing,” former privacy attorney and director of privacy at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, Albert Gidari, told ZDNet. “I’d love to see the probable cause affidavit for that one and wonder what the court thought on its 10 day reviews when zip came in.”
He added, “I’m not surprised by the results because on average, a very very low percentage of conversations are incriminating, and a very very low percent results in conviction.”
Granting a wiretap order means “permitting wire, oral, or electronic surveillance” be subject to surveillance — or, rather, subject to heightened efforts to spy, given the multiple invasive domestic spying programs currently used by the National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, or other unknown or unnamed agencies.
Keep in mind the State championed fighting terrorism as the premise for the need for increased surveillance — since the report, itself, claims,
“Drug offenses were the most prevalent type of criminal offenses investigated using reported wiretaps.”
Drug offenses. As in, crimes largely crimes because the Nanny State enjoys executive control over what substances a person chooses to ingest and why. And 61 percent — 1,949 total — of wiretaps green lighted in 2016 pertained to narcotics offenses.
Domestic surveillance came about to catch the worst criminals — traitors, terrorists, conspirators, and ringleaders of other nefarious crime operations — not for the laughably under- (or over-) trained police and politically-motivated Drug Enforcement Administration to target and lock people in cages who might otherwise need treatment, or simply to be left alone.
Not that these appalling breaches of privacy came at a discount rate, as the report continues,
“The average cost of an intercept in 2016 was $74,949, up 78 percent from the average cost in 2015. The most expensive state wiretap was in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, New York, where costs for a 434-day narcotics wiretap that resulted in 15 arrests and no convictions totaled $2,989,930. For federal wiretaps for which expenses were reported in 2016, the average cost was $83,356, a 70 percent increase from 2015. The most expensive federal wiretap completed during 2016 occurred in the Southern District of California, where costs for a narcotics investigation totaled $5,266,558.”
Narcotics. This unabashed invasion of your personal space is due to narcotics — the loathsome, disputatious, profiteering war on drugs.
Unaware the far-reaching ramifications of allowing the government an audience in our private, personal conversations, the somnambulant masses blithely welcome the façade of security inherent to the soothing idea spies may catch a bad guy before he strikes — but it’s a wholly fictitious palliative, meant to quell those who would otherwise harbor reservations when the State so breaches that unspoken line.
Without vastly improved transparency in government — a thought so farcical, it would be best not to hold your breath — it would be best to speak to Grandma, your best friend, or even the repair shop as if the information exchanged is done so before a ravenously authoritarian audience of government agents.