US courts received 4,148 wiretap requests last year, and they approved every single one, according to a government report released last week.
The number of total wiretap requests grew 17 percent from the previous year, and 96 percent compared to ten years ago, in 2005, when law enforcement submitted 2,121 requests.
The, an annual summary released by the Office of the US Courts, shows that federal judges approved 1,403 reports while state judges authorized 2,745.
Most wiretaps targeted cellular devices
Of the total wiretaps, 94 percent, meaning 2,578 requests of the state-level requests, targeted a telephone, and more specifically, a cellular phone.
Additionally, besides targeting specific devices, prosecutors used “roving” wiretaps that targeted multiple locations instead of a specific device or person.
A total of 4,448 persons were arrested, and 590 were convicted following these wiretaps. Both numbers are up, 26 percent and 7 percent, respectively, compared to the previous year.
The report highlights that the average cost of an intercept in 2015 was $42,216, which is also up 7 percent. The average length of a wiretap request was 43 days, nine days longer than in 2015.
Encryption usage went down in 2015
Encryption didn’t give authorities too many headaches in 2015. While in 2014 authorities stumbled upon 22 cases where the targets used encryption, in 2015, the number went down to seven, six at the federal level, and one at the state level.
Out of the six federal wiretap requests that encountered encryption, authorities say they were able to break the encryption on two.
After the highly publicized FBI vs. Apple case from the end of 2015, encryption usage is expected to grow for 2016. Wiretap requests didn’t only target telephone conversations, but also data transfers and app usage.
The popularity of apps using encryption is growing in large part to the aforementioned case. Apps like Signal and Telegram became more popular while WhatsApp and the upcoming Google Allo app announced support for encryption.