Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Fun with Math

Hugh Hewitt comments on a UPI story titled "Bush was denied wiretaps, bypassed them". His criticism is entirely valid but there are two things I saw he didn't point out.

From the UPI story:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- U.S. President George Bush decided to skip seeking warrants for international wiretaps because the court was challenging him at an unprecedented rate.
A review of Justice Department reports to Congress by Hearst newspapers shows the 26-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court modified more wiretap requests from the Bush administration than the four previous presidential administrations combined.

The 11-judge court that authorizes FISA wiretaps modified only two search warrant orders out of the 13,102 applications approved over the first 22 years of the court's operation.

But since 2001, the judges have modified 179 of the 5,645 requests for surveillance by the Bush administration, the report said. A total of 173 of those court-ordered "substantive modifications" took place in 2003 and 2004. And, the judges also rejected or deferred at least six requests for warrants during those two years -- the first outright rejection of a wiretap request in the court's history.

The first thing that jumped out at me is that the UPI headline claimed that Bush was DENIED warrants and then quotes the number MODIFIED in comparison to years past. They are kind enough to tell us that the court rejected or deferred 6 requests from the Bush administration but gives us no comparison with previous administrations on that front.

The second thing is that raw numbers, while useful, are often misleading to the public. As a general rule when comparing disjoint sets you need to do the presentation including percentages or rates. So here we go.

In the first 22 years there were 13,102 requests and 2 modifications.

13,102 / (22 * 12) = 49.62 warrant requests per month
2/13,102 = so close to 0% modified as to be negligible

In the last 5 years (2001 - 2005) there were 5,645 requests with 179 modifications.

5,645 / (5 * 12) = 94.08 warrant requests per month
179/5,645 = 3.17% of requests modified
6/5,645 = 0.1% of requests rejected or deferred (pretty close to negligible)

I am not a lawyer or a police officer but I would have to assume that getting almost 97% of all warrant requests through without modification would be considered either a rubber stamp court/judge or a highly conservative prosecutor/cop. Further, only about 1 in 1,000 requests were rejected or deferred so most of even the 3% that were modified were approved in some form. I would think that would definitely be considered a rubber stamp court.

The Bush administration almost doubled the rate of warrant requests and fell from almost 100% approval without modification to 99.9% approval with 3% modified. How many DA's in the country can quote similar statistics in their "crack down on crime" campaigns?

Isn't math fun?


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