More wiretaps being used in Colorado |

More wiretaps being used in Colorado

DENVER ” Court-approved wiretaps are rising dramatically in Colorado, resulting in more drug arrests but raising privacy concerns.

Federal prosecutors used 108 wiretaps in Colorado during U.S. Attorney Troy Eid’s first year, a fourfold increase over the previous 12 months, the Rocky Mountain News reported Monday, citing data from Eid’s office.

State prosecutors used 43 court-authorized wiretaps in 2006, about 3 1-2 times more than in 2005, according to figures from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

Eid’s office said the increase in wiretaps has led to more drug seizures. Since Eid took office in August 2006, federal agents have sized 1,151 kilograms of marijuana and 126 kilograms of cocaine, compared with 122 kilograms of pot and 13 kilograms of cocaine in the previous 12 months.

Defense attorneys worry that it’s too easy to get court approval for a wiretap, and that judges hear only prosecutors’ side before deciding whether to approve them.

The court administrative office reported that no state or federal judge turned down a request for a wiretap last year, and only five requests were turned down over the past decade, out of more than 15,000 sought.

“You really do have to wonder if it’s a rubber stamp,” Denver attorney Mari Newman said.

Cathryn Hazouri, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said wiretaps take in the conversations of anyone who calls a suspect, even if the caller is not a target of the investigation.

“You do have people with no connection whatsoever with crime whose conversations are scrutinized,” Hazouri said. “That is a serious invasion of their privacy.”

Hazouri said next year’s Democratic National Convention in Denver could lead to more indiscriminate use of wiretaps.

“There could easily be a tendency to overuse wiretaps and justify them as preventing violence at the convention, when they’re really intercepting calls among nonviolent protesters,” Hazouri said. “The track record is not great.”

Eid’s spokesman, Jeff Dorschner, said there is no cause for alarm.

“This process has substantial checks in place to ensure that (wiretaps) are done right,” he said.

Court-authorized wiretaps are different from President Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program used by the National Security Agency in its war on terror.

To get court approval for a wiretap, prosecutors must show they have probable cause to believe the target is breaking the law and that other investigative techniques either are not working, are too dangerous or are unlikely to succeed.

Federal prosecutors also must get approval from a deputy attorney general in Washington before asking a judge for wiretap approval.

Court approval is valid for 30 days and a judge must approve any extension.

Prosecutors must also provide regular updates to the judge. Officers listening in on a court-approved wiretap are required to stop listening if the discussion isn’t related to the criminal investigation.

“I can’t overemphasize the number of hoops we have to jump through,” said Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger, whose office used wiretaps to bring drug charges against 31 people last year for allegedly selling methamphetamine. “It is not something we do willy-nilly.”

Nationwide, the number of wiretaps authorized for state and federal investigators was 1,839, a 54 percent increase over a decade ago.

Rocky Mountain News,

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