According to a report by the German Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law, Italy and the Netherlands are the wiretap champions of the Western world.
The report entitled ‘Rechtswirklichkeit und Effizienz der Überwachung der Telekommunikation’ researches the legal and practical situation in Germany regarding police wiretapping. The report also investigates the situation in surrounding countries, notably in Western Europe and the Anglo-Saxon countries.
The report concludes that Italy has the highest number of wiretaps per capita, 76 per 100.000 inhabitants. The Netherlands follow closely on the second place with 62 and Switzerland gets a third place with 32. Austria has the lowest number in Western-Europe with 9 wiretaps per 100.000 inhabitants. The statistics show a remarkable low figure for the Anglo-Saxon countries. The USA apply only 0,5 wiretaps for the given number of inhabitants. The statistics would mean that Italy engages into wiretapping about 140 times more often then the USA when compared to the number of inhabitants. The report does not go into the use of wiretaps by intelligences services and systems like Echelon.
The German report mentions an Italian 1992 law that allows wiretapping for pro-active information gathering on organised crime by order of a prosecutor. This law does not require a court approval. Under the law taps can’t be used as evidence but they may be used for the preparation of cases. This might explain the high Italian statistics.
Research from the Dutch ministry of Justice shows that the 10.000 wiretaps per year in the Netherlands rarely lead to evidence that can be used in court. But wiretapping seems to be very heavily used as a tactical instrument during police investigations. Wiretapping gives insight into relations between suspects and their networks and is used as support for surveillance teams, according to the report.
Rechtswirklichkeit und Effizienz der Überwachung der Telekommunikation (..), Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law, international statistics on page 104 (in German, June 2003) http://www.iuscrim.mpg.de/verlag/online/Band_115.pdf
De telefoontap in grote opsporingsonderzoeken, WODC (in Dutch, June 2004)