By Brad Heath / USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration more than tripled its use of wiretaps and other types of electronic eavesdropping over the past decade, largely bypassing federal courts and Justice Department lawyers in the process, newly obtained records show.
The DEA conducted 11,681 electronic intercepts in the fiscal year that ended in September. Ten years earlier, the drug agency conducted 3,394.
Most of that ramped-up surveillance was never reviewed by federal judges or Justice Department lawyers, who typically are responsible for examining federal agents' eavesdropping requests. Instead, DEA agents now take 60% of those requests directly to local prosecutors and judges from New York to California, who current and former officials say often approve them more quickly and easily.
Drug investigations account for the vast majority of U.S. wiretaps, and much of that surveillance is carried out by the DEA. Privacy advocates expressed concern that the drug agency had expanded its surveillance without going through internal Justice Department reviews, which often are more demanding than federal law requires.
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