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. (Read more wiretap stories.)