As part of a package of European Union anti-terrorism measures, the European Parliament in December approved legislation requiring telecommunications companies to retain phone date and Internet logs for a minimum of six months in case they are needed for criminal investigations.
In Italy, which experts agree is the most wiretapped Western democracy, a report to parliament in January by Justice Minister Roberto Castelli said the number of authorized wiretaps more than tripled from 32,000 in 2001 to 106,000 last year.
The Dutch secret service, known by its acronym AIVD, has gained vast powers since 9/11. In September 2004, the government passed sweeping measures that lowered the threshold for bugging and surveillance.
A new anti-crime law introduced in 2004 also made wiretapping easier in France. Prosecutors can now apply for wiretaps when investigations are still in a preliminary phase, rather than wait for an investigating magistrate to take over the case.
Hans-Jorg Albrecht, one of the authors of the report, said wiretaps are much more common on the European continent than in Britain or the United States, where he said there is a more "institutionalized mistrust in the relationship between civil society and a state-organized judiciary."
He said research showed that wiretaps are often used to support weak cases and seldom help to achieve a guilty verdict.
"The more wiretaps are used, the lower the conviction rates," he said.