The Alaska Department of Law is failing to disclose when it taps the phone of an Alaskans, the Empire has learned through a public records request.
In fact, in the 25 years since the Alaska Legislature began allowing the state to conduct wiretaps, the Department of Law has never filed an annual wiretap report, as required by state statute. When the Empire requested copies of the latest report, which should have been filed this month, the newspaper was told it did not exist.
“Until recently, we did not have anything to report, so didn’t need to produce a report,” said Cori Mills, a spokeswoman for the Department of Law, by email. “We are a bit behind in the last couple of years where we may have a few to report, but with budget cuts and tightening of resources, especially in our Criminal Division, it just hasn’t happened.”
The state’s failure to produce a report means Alaskans have no idea how frequently the state taps Alaskans’ phones. The Empire contacted a half-dozen criminal defense attorneys across the state in an attempt to obtain an answer. None said they had heard of any state cases involving wiretaps. Head public defender Quinlan Steiner declined to comment on the record, citing unfamiliarity with the issue.
“Sadly, it isn’t surprising that the state would fail to comply with its reporting and disclosure requirements on wiretaps,” said Casey Reynolds, communications director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska. “From shutting down police scanners to failing disclose technologies being used to surveil citizens, to declining to comply with FOIA requests, law enforcement agencies across Alaska have become less and less interested in transparency and our state and local elected officials are increasingly wary of holding law enforcement officials accountable for their secrecy.”
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