Verizon, AT&T Make a Pretty Penny Off Wiretaps
Government pays Verizon $500 a month to eavesdrop on a line
By Kevin Spak, Newser User
Posted Jul 11, 2013 2:41 PM CDT
Pedestrians pass a Verizon Wireless store on Canal Street, June 6, 2013, in New York.   (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

(Newser) – If you think your cellphone bill is bad, just be thankful you're not the snoops at the FBI or NSA. Tapping a single Verizon customer's phone costs the government $775 for the first month, and $500 for each month thereafter, while AT&T charges a $325 "activation fee" plus $10 a day, according to documents released to congressman Ed Markey last year. Taxpayers dole out for these and other carrier fees in what has become a multimillion-dollar market, according to CBS and the AP.

The phone industry says it doesn't profit on the deal, with Verizon protesting that it pays 70 employees to work non-stop processing a quarter-million tap requests a year. "We do not sell customers' personal information," Verizon told Markey. We "seek reimbursement for only a portion of our reasonable expenses." Other companies have automated the process; Sprint has an automated website allowing authorities to track users' location data for $30 a month, and gets 8 million requests a year.

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Showing 3 of 23 comments
Jul 15, 2013 9:17 PM CDT
Cell phones made it much harder for the "authorities" to do the taps. Before, tech agents could simply rig your totem pole and easily capture all calls to your wired phone. They can still do that but it doesn't work for wireless calls. There is a capacity for Verizon, ATT, T-mobile to give access to a web page where the agent enters a phone # and then listens in on an audio stream to calls made to that #. Its done through a VPN. It really did not start out that way. It started out as bigger cities put together rapid strike teams for hostage situations and SWAT team task forces. They got with the phone providers and made it possible to rapidly re-route calls from both wired and cellular phones. In a hostage situation, you don't need a lot getting in the way in gaining control of the suspect's phone. So you quickly find out the # of the home phone and re-route it to the swat van. You can also do it by tapping into the totem pole and then the home phone becomes a circuit of the SWAT van. You use intelligence gathering to get the phone # of the perp. That fails, you just break a window and toss in a phone for them to use. The most likely scenario is that they suspect someone in a crime. They find out their cellphone #. They enter that # into the web page and then as they take calls, one side of the screen shows their location on a map and lets you record the call. The other side shows you the other person's location and account information. It does not take anyone involved in the phone company to make this happen. But it does take, like they said, a lot of people to maintain the frame relay that makes it possible.
Jul 13, 2013 1:27 AM CDT
"We do not sell customers' personal information," WHAT KIND OF LOGIC IS THIS?
Jul 12, 2013 6:17 PM CDT
So if Verizon is only monitoring for one month (per request) that means 250,000 requests brings them $193,750,000 per year. (Much more if they go for more than one month obviously.) If they are paying 70 employees to operate it, that works out to $2,767,857 per employee per year. I doubt they are paying their employees $2.7 million per year. I think the whole 'covering our expenses' bit is *slightly* wrong...