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A trap and trace device records the originating non-content information regarding telephone calls and Internet communications sent to a particular telephone number. Non-content information includes the originating telephone number and the length of the telephone call, as well as the identities of an email message's sender and recipient.[1]

As set forth in 18 U.S.C. §3127(4):

the term "trap and trace device" means a device or process which captures the incoming electronic or other impulses which identify the originating number or other dialing, routing, addressing, and signaling information reasonably likely to identify the source of a wire or electronic communication, provided, however, that such information shall not include the contents of any communication.[2]


Law enforcement agents are not required to obtain search warrants before employing trap and trace devices.[3] The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 requires the U.S. Attorney General to "annually report to Congress on the number of pen register orders and orders for trap and trace devices applied for by law enforcement agencies of the Department of Justice."[4]

Prior to 2001, FISA allowed law enforcement officers to collect incoming and outgoing numbers on a telephone line. The USA PATRIOT Act expanded the law to permit the capture of comparable information related to other forms of communication including the Internet, electronic mail, web surfing, and all other forms of electronic communications.


  1. See 18 U.S.C. §3121(c); In re United States for Order for Disclosure of Telecommunications Records, 405 F.Supp.2d 435, 438 (S.D.N.Y. 2005) (full-text).
  2. 18 U.S.C. §3127(4).
  3. Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735, 745 (1979) (full-text).
  4. 18 U.S.C. §3126.


See also[]