State versus federal wiretap orders: A look at the data

Jason Chan, Jin Hyuk Kim, Liad Wagman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Federal and state law enforcement interceptions of communications, as authorized by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and analogous state laws, are contingent on obtaining a court order. We investigate how wiretap orders have been utilized in narcotics cases across the federal and state court systems. We characterize a sorting mechanism that is consistent with our data and empirical findings, whereby federal wiretap orders trade off prosecution outcomes and crime deterrence more quickly than state wiretap orders. We also find that the intensity of surveillance in most states and years is at the lower end of the enforcement-deterrence trade-off, reflecting the high cost of running wiretap operations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106064
JournalInternational Review of Law and Economics
StatePublished - Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
? We are grateful to the Editor (Eric Helland), two anonymous referees, Derek Bambauer, Lawrence Oh, Avani Sood, and participants at the Conference on Empirical Legal Studies, whose comments substantially improved this manuscript. We also gratefully acknowledge the Privacy Fellowship from the Program on Economics and Privacy at George Mason University. The usual disclaimers apply.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Inc.


  • Federalism
  • Law enforcement
  • Privacy
  • Surveillance
  • Wiretap


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