If Americans aren’t disturbed by phone carriers’ practices of handing over cell phone users’ personal data to law enforcement en masse–in many cases without a warrant–we might at least be interested to learn just how much that service is costing us in tax dollars: often hundreds or thousands per individual snooped.
Earlier this week the American Civil Liberties Union revealed a trove of documents it had obtained through Freedom of Information Requests to more than 200 police departments around the country. They show a pattern of police tracking cell phone locations and gathering other data like call logs without warrants,using devices that impersonate cell towers to intercept cellular signals, and encouraging officers to refrain from speaking about cell-tracking technology to the public, all detailed in a New York Times story.
But at least one document also details the day-to-day business of telecoms’ handing over of data to law enforcement, including a breakdown of every major carrier’s fees for every sort of data request from targeted wiretaps to so-called “tower dumps” that provide information on every user of certain cell tower. The guide, as provided by the Tucson, Arizona police department to the ACLU, is dated July 2009, and the fees it lists may be somewhat outdated. But representatives I reached by email at Verizon and AT&T both declined to detail any changes to the numbers.
Here are a few of the highlights from the fee data.
Wiretaps cost hundreds of dollars per target every month, generally paid at daily or monthly rates. To wiretap a customer’s phone, T-Mobile charges law enforcement a flat fee of $500 per target. Sprint’s wireless carrier Sprint Nextel requires police pay $400 per “market area” and per “technology” as well as a $10 per day fee, capped at $2,000. AT&T charges a $325 activation fee, plus $5 per day for data and $10 for audio. Verizon charges a $50 administrative fee plus $700 per month, per target.
Data requests for voicemail or text messages cost extra. AT&T demands $150 for access to a target’s voicemail, while Verizon charges $50 for access to text messages. Sprint offers the most detailed breakdown of fees for various kinds of data on a phone, asking $120 for pictures or video, $60 for email, $60 for voice mail and $30 for text messages.
All four telecom firms also offer so-called “tower dumps” that allow police to see the numbers of every user accessing a certain cell tower overT-Mobile demands $150 per cell tower per hour, and Sprint charges $50 per tower, seemingly without an hourly rate. a certain time at an hourly rate. AT&T charges $75 per tower per hour, with a minimum of two hours. Verizon charges between $30 and $60 per hour for each cell tower.
For location data, the carrier firms offer automated tools that let police track suspects in real time. Sprint charges $30 per month per target to use its L-Site program for location tracking. AT&T’s E911 tool costs $100 to activate and then $25 a day. T-Mobile charges a much pricier $100 per day.
In an emailed statement to me, a Verizon spokesperson told me that the company doesn’t charge police in “emergency cases, nor do we charge law enforcement for historical location information in non-emergency cases.” He added that the company doesn’t “make a profit from any of the data requests from law enforcement.” A Sprint spokesperson sent me a statement saying that the company similarly doesn’t charge law enforcement for data requests in “exigent circumstances.”
“Fees are charged to law enforcement in other circumstances such as court ordered requests and it’s important to note that any fee charged is for recovery of cost required to support these law enforcement requests 24/7,” she writes.
That claim is “simply misleading,” says Catherine Crump, an attorney with the ACLU who coordinated the group’s FOIA project. “That’s a curious definition of ‘sell,’ given that they seem to be charging money for people’s information on a regular basis and handing it over to law enforcement agencies around the country.”
I’ve embedded the Tucson police department document below. The ACLU has created a summary of the very large collection of data it’s obtained here, and the full collection can be found here.
- Your Cell Phone Makes You A Prisoner Of A Digital World Where Virtually Anyone Can Hack You (wrc559.com)
- Prices that AT&T, Verizon and Sprint Charge For Cellphone Wiretaps (forbes.com)
- AT&T, Sprint, Verizon said charging for cellphone wiretaps (electronista.com)
- Your Cell Phone Makes You A Prisoner Of A Digital World Where Virtually Anyone Can Hack You And Track You (johnmalcolm.me)
- Your Cell Phone Makes You A Prisoner Of A Digital World Where Virtually Anyone Can Hack You And Track You (blogginghounds.wordpress.com)
- No matter your stance on cellphone wiretapping, you’re paying for it, and it isn’t cheap (thetechblock.com)
- Your Cell Phone Makes You A Prisoner Of A Digital World Where Virtually Anyone Can Hack You And Track You (zionistoutrage.com)
- ACLU docs reveal real-time cell phone location spying is easy and cheap (paranoia.dubfire.net)
- slight paranoia: ACLU docs reveal real-time cell phone location spying is easy and cheap (sunnyromy.wordpress.com)
- Vertical Consultants Obtains Win-Fall Cell Tower Rent Increase for Self Storage Leader (prweb.com)
- How To Track A Cell Phone (answers.com)
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