Telephone tapping and mail-opening figures 1937-2002 (Compiled by Statewatch)



The chart below gives the figures for the number of warrants issued for telephone tapping and mail-opening issued for the period 1937-2002 in England and Wales; the warrants issued by the Secretary of State for Scotland between 1967-2002; and the number issued by the Foreign Secretary between 1980-1984.

Report on 2002 from the Interception Commissioner (pdf)

Some general observations can be made on the figures for England and Wales.

1) 1955 was the first year that the number of warrants issued for telephone-tapping was greater than those for mail-opening;

2) The record number of warrants issued in 1940 a total of 1,682 was exceeded for the first time in 1998 with 1,763 warrants being issued and in 2001 rose to: 3,102

3) The high number of warrants between 1939-1941 is clearly attributable to the beginning of the Second World War; the rise in 1948 to the beginning of the Cold War and strikes, the post-war low point of 238 total warrants was in 1958 with the rise between 1971-1975 being due to industrial action combined with Cold War paranoia.

4) The total number of warrants was pretty steady in the 400's from 1976 until 1991.

5) A major change was introduced in 1998 and further changes in the recording methods with the introduction of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) on 2 October 2000. A major change in July 1998 stripped out the number of warrants which are "modified" (ie: a new address or phone number is needed) which previously required a new warrant to be issued. Thus in order to present historically comparative figures the number of "modifications" needs to be added to the number of initial warrants issued. The new charts below bring together the total figures for England, Wales and Scotland to reflect these changes. No figures have ever been issued for Northern Ireland.

In future we will list the following:

1) The overall figures for England, Wales and Scotland (warrants plus "modifications") - Table 1
2) The number of warrants issued for England and Wales (excluding "modifications") - Table 2
3) The number of warrants issued for Scotland (including "modifications") - Table 3

 Table 1: England, Wales and Scotland - Year Interception warrants Modifications Total
 1990 581 - 518
 1991 815 - 815
1992 966 - 966
1993 1,120 - 1,120
1994 1,047 - 1,047
1995 1,135 - 1,135
1996 1,370 - 1,370
1997 1,712 - 1,712
1998 2,031 172 2,203
1999 2,022 565 2,587
2000 1,900 722 2,622
2001 1,445 1,982 3,427
2002 1,605 2,143 3,748

Table 2: England & Wales Telephone tapping warrants Mail opening warrants Total
1937 17 556 573
1938 20 710 730
1939 29 973 1,002
1940 125 1,557 1,682
1941 180 862 1,042
1942 164 514 678
1943 126 329 455
1944 102 213 315
1945 56 90 146
1946 73 139 212
1947 110 190 300
1948 103 870 973
1949 133 641 774
1950 179 356 535
1951 177 486 663
1952 173 462 635
1953 202 459 661
1954 222 227 449
1955 241 205 446
1956 159 183 342
1957 n/a n/a n/a
1958 129 109 238
1959 159 101 260
1960 195 110 305
1961 183 75 258
1962 242 96 338
1963 270 128 398
1964 253 120 373
1965 299 93 392 [1]
1966 318 139 457
1967 307 92 399
1968 333 83 416
1969 377 93 470
1970 395 104 499
1971 418 86 504
1972 413 95 508
1973 424 73 497
1974 436 93 529
1975 468 93 561
1976 410 62 472
1977 407 84 491
1978 428 44 472
1979 411 52 463
1980 414 39 453 [2]
1981 402 46 448
1982 379 54 433
1983 372 53 415
1984 352 39 391
1985 403 40 443
1986 573 95 668 [3]
1987 438 34 472
1988 412 48 460
1989 427 31 458
1990 473 42 515
1991 670 62 732
1992 756 118 874
1993 893 105 998
1994 871 76 947
1995 910 87 997
1996 1,073 69 1,142
1997 1.391 65 1,456
1998 1,646 117 1,763
 1999 1,645 89 1,734
 2000 1,559 49 1,608
 2001 1,314 [4] - 1,314
 2002 1,466 [4] - 1,466

[1] This figure is wrongly given as 382 in Cmnd. 7873

[2] Cmnd 9438 states in the figures between 1980-1984 excludes warrants issued under the 1920 Official Secrets Act.

[3] The Report of the Commissioner for 1998 states in para.6 that the high figure for this year "is explained by the need to replace all the outstanding non-statutory warrants when the new Act came into force".

[4] From 2001 no separate figures for mail-opening warrants are to be issued.

Table 3: Scotland Telephone tapping warrants Mail-opening warrants then "modifications" from 2001 Total warrants issued for the year
1967 3 - 3
1968 10 - 10
1969 8 - 8
1970 14 - 14
1971 10 2 12
1972 15 - 15
1973 20 - 20
1974 33 5 38
1975 41 - 41
1976 41 - 41
1977 52 3 55
1978 42 - 42
1979 56 - 56
1980 50 - 50
1981 49 - 49
1982 79 2 81
1983 53 1 54
1984 71 4 75
1985 59 9 68
1986 84 4 88 [1]
1987 54 3 57
1988 54 5 59
1989 63 1 64
1990 66 2 66
1991 81 1 82
1992 87 5 92
1993 112 10 122
1994 90 10 100
1995 137 1 138
1996 228 0 228
1997 256 0 256
1998 267 1 268
1999  288 - 288
 2000 292 - 292
 2001 131 194 [3] 325
 2002  139  258  397

[1] The Report of the Commissioner for 1998 states in para.6 that the high figure for this year "is explained by the need to replace all the outstanding non-statutory warrants when the new Act came into force".

[2] It is noticeable that several of the rises in Scotland, especially for warrants to open letters, occurs during years when strikes played an important role, e.g. 1971, 1974, 1977, 1984 and 1985. It is also apparent that the overall figures for Scotland rose significantly during the 1980s (over the 1970s).

[3] From 2001 no separate figures are given for mail-opening warrants. But for the first time in 2001 there were an additional 194 "modifications". This the total for 2001 is 325, not 131.

Foreign Secretary:Year [1][2] Telephone tapping warrants Mail-opening warrants Total
1980 136 - 136
1981 101 - 101
1982 92 - 92
1983 109 - 109
1984 115 - 115

[1] Figures for warrants issued by the Foreign Secretary have not been issued since 1984.

[2] The Report of the Commissioner for 1990 it states that it would be against the public interest to publish the number of warrants issued by the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.



Statewatch News online | Join Statewatch news e-mail list | Statewatch websites