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The electronic communications boom has been accompanied by an increase in electronic eavesdropping, and New Jersey is among the nation’s top tappers, says a recent report from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The 99 wiretaps authorized by state judges in New Jersey last year was the fourth-highest of any state, trailing New York’s 425, California’s 130 and Illinois’ 128, but exceeding Pennsylvania’s 54, Florida’s 51 and Maryland’s 49. Nationally, the May 23 report shows a 25 percent increase in wiretaps ordered by federal and state courts during 2001, up to 1,491 from 1,190 the year before. The New Jersey attorney general’s office accounts for 26 of the 99 wiretap orders in 2001, with 14 of New Jersey’s 21 counties providing the rest. Union County leads the state with 14, followed by Hudson with 12 and Passaic with 11. Surprisingly, no wiretaps are shown for Essex County, which has the largest county prosecutor’s office. The state Division of Criminal Justice, however, says Essex reported 12 wiretaps. DRUGS AND GAMBLING Nationally, the war on drugs accounts for the vast majority of wiretaps: 75 percent, or 1,167. The percentage of drug-related bugs has been steadily rising, from 63 percent in 1991 to 72 percent in 2000. The next largest national categories were gambling, 5.5 percent; racketeering, 5 percent; and homicide/assault, 3.5 percent. But in New Jersey, narcotics cases make up less of a swath, accounting for 57 percent of wiretaps. Wiretaps for gambling accounted for 22 percent of the state’s total; racketeering, 11 percent; and homicide/assault, 9 percent. All 12 wiretap orders in Hudson County last year were for gambling offenses, while both of Burlington County’s were related to homicide/assault. The investigation of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was not a factor in the general upswing reflected in the report, which covers warrants issued under Title 18 and excludes warrants issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The report shows only one wiretap ordered last year in a terrorism matter, a warrant issued by U.S. District Judge William Bassler on Sept. 26. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Jersey declines to provide details. Most but not all wiretaps covered in the report are of the traditional telephone-bugging variety. They also include interception of electronic communications via computers, faxes and digital pagers, as well as oral intercepts involving microphones and eavesdropping. Nationally, 83 percent of the intercepts carried out in 2001 involved listening devices applied to telephones, including land lines, cell phones and mobile phones; 5 percent were for electronic devices; 3 percent for oral communications; and 4 percent for some type of combination. New Jersey’s figures were similar: 91.5 percent wire; 7 percent electronic; and 1.5 percent oral. The most common location for listening devices was “portable device carried by/on individual” — devices such as cell phones and pagers. The category was only added in 2000. Nationally, 68 percent of wiretappings were installed on portable devices, followed by 14 percent in the home and by smaller numbers for business, roving warrants and combined locations. Reports on 70 wiretap operations in New Jersey last year show 313 resulting arrests and eight convictions thus far. Those results did not come cheaply. The $46,229 average cost for a wiretap in New Jersey was just below the $48,198 national average, but figures vary widely. Morris’ single wiretap was the most expensive in the state at $133,627. Seven wiretaps in Cumberland averaged $114,286 apiece. At the other extreme were two in Middlesex for $8,185 each and five in Somerset at $9,934 each. The New Jersey attorney general’s office averaged $33,296. The highest price nationally was paid by Maricopa County in Arizona, nearly $1 million for a narcotics wiretap and a homicide/assault wiretap. STAYING ON THE LINE Because the bulk of the cost goes for manpower, the duration of the wiretap accounts for much of the difference in cost. Last year, the longest wiretap lasted 431 days in a New York state narcotics case. The longest federal wiretap was a 300-day wiretap in a New Jersey fraud case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office declines to provide specifics. The New Jersey attorney general conducted the most days of wiretapping last year, 468, followed by 360 days for Passaic and 333 for Union. Reports going back to 1997 show New Jersey consistently among the top four states in issuing wiretaps, with 70 in 1997, 84 in 1998, 71 in 1999 and 45 in 2000, though that does not include figures from the state attorney general’s office. State-by-state numbers of federally authorized wiretaps were not provided in the 2001 report.

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