THERE’S A REASON the television show The Wire wasn’t just called “The Cops vs. Drug Dealers Show.” Law enforcement’s surveillance in America—and particularly its ever-increasing use of wiretaps—have been primarily driven for the last 25 years by drug cases. And as the chart above shows, that’s now truer than ever before.
Earlier this month the US court system released its annual report of every wiretap over the last year for which it granted law enforcement a warrant. And of those 3,554 wiretaps in 2014, fully 89 percent were for narcotics cases. That’s the highest percentage of wiretaps focused on drugs in the report’s history, and it continues a steady increase in the proportion of drug-focused spying. Twenty-five years ago, just 62 percent of wiretaps were for drug cases.
In fact, that constant swell in drug-focused wiretaps may help to explain the general increase in all American wiretaps. In total, the count of US state and federal wiretaps has jumped from 768 in 1989 to more than four times that number today. But take out those drug cases, and the collection of wiretaps of all other kinds increased only 29 percent in those 25 years, from 297 in the year 1989 to just 384 last year.