Telephone tapping and mail-opening figures 1937-1998 (Compiled by Statewatch)

This document includes the figures for the number of warrants issued for telephone tapping and mail-opening issued by the Home Secretary for the period 1937-1998 in England and Wales; the warrants issued by the Secretary of State for Scotland between 1967-1998; and the number issued by the Foreign Secretary between 1980-1984. The figures for 1999 have not been published yet.

Some general observations can be made: 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; 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. Thereafter the number of warrants has risen significantly despite the end of the Cold War in 1989.

ENGLAND & WALES: Year

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

[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 hi gh figure for this year "is explained by the need to replace all the outstanding non-statutory warrants when the new Act came into force".

SCOTLAND:

Year

Telephone tapping warrants

Mail-opening warrants

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

[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).

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.