The US government uses American tax dollars to pay major Internet companies and telecommunications giants like Verizon and AT&T for unprecedented access into millions of phone records and the ability to scour vast online databases.
AT&T charges the government a $325 “activation fee”
for each individual wiretap and a daily fee of $10 to maintain
it. Verizon, on the other hand, charges government eavesdroppers
$775 for the first month of monitoring an individual then $500 in
each month that follows, Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) told
the Associated Press.
While Big Data executives claim they do not profit from the
government requests, civil liberties groups including the
American Civil Liberties Union encourage Microsoft, Google and
the like to charge because it could, theoretically, discourage
lawmakers from buying the warrantless access.
“What we don’t want is surveillance to become a profit
center,” Christopher Soghoian, the ACLU’s principal
technologist, told the AP. Because financial records create a
paper trail “it’s always better to charge one dollar. It
creates friction, and it creates transparency.”
Yahoo, Google and Microsoft did not disclose their fees, but the
ACLU determined that some email transcripts can cost the federal
government $25. Facebook said it grants the government access for
The extra scrutiny on the fledgling surveillance business comes
as US law enforcement continues its pursuit of former National
Security Agency Edward Snowden. Snowden admitted leaking secret
documents outlining the NSA’s policy of going before the secret
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to request access to
phone and Internet records.
The average wiretap is estimated to cost American taxpayers
$50,000, although one narcotics case in 2011 cost New York
investigators $2.9 million in wiretapping alone.
Companies rarely, if ever, charge in emergency cases – such as
police tracking an abducted child – and are not permitted to
charge for publicly accessible documentation, according to the
“Government doesn’t have the manpower to wade through
irrelevant material any more than providers have the bandwidth to
bury them in records,” said Al Gidari, a lawyer who
represents telecommunication companies in matters related to
privacy and civil liberty. “In reality, there is a pretty good
equilibrium and balance, with the exception of phone
Still, some in the government have complained that the fees
remain too high. Former New York criminal prosecutor John Prather
filed suit against several major telecommunication companies in
2009, claiming the fees they charge the government are
“They were monstrously more than what the telecoms could ever
hope to charge for similar services in an open, competitive
market, and the costs charged to the governments by telecoms did
not represent reasonable prices as defined in the code of federal
regulations,” the suit alleged, as quoted by the AP.
While the government has long been granted access to
communication methods, surveillance techniques — in recent years
— have struggled to adapt with constantly changing technology.
The FBI has pressured companies, most notably Google and the
Microsoft-owned Skype, to provide so-called backdoor methods that
would allow investigators to watch conversations in real
“A growing gap exists between the statutory authority of law
enforcement to intercept electronic communications pursuant to
court order and our practical ability to intercept those
communications,” an anonymous FBI source told CNet in 2012.
“The FBI believes that if this gap continues to grow there is
a very real risk of the government ‘going dark,’ resulting in an
increased risk to national security and public safety.”
Republished with permission from: RT