Law Enforcement Fails To Pay Telco Bills For Coughing Up Your Info

from the cheapskates dept

Senator Ed Markey has been very interested in just how often law enforcement requests information from telcos since back when he was in the other house of Congress, sending letters to the major telcos and releasing the details of their responses. There are good breakdowns of the total number of requests from the various telcos (and, damn, it's a lot) over at Forbes and PrivacySOS.

However, I wanted to focus in on just one element of the responses, from wireless carrier Cricket. One of the questions asked was how much money the company received in response to law enforcement requests. There is some reasonable debate over these fees for a variety of reasons. At one end of the spectrum, you can reasonably argue that if the government comes in and demands work from a private company, they ought to compensate them for the time -- and indeed, that's what the law allows (it says that such payments are to cover costs, not profit). On the other side, though, it seems... wrong for the government to pay telcos with taxpayer money to violate our privacy. Also, it raises the specter of companies profiting from coughing up our info to the government, and leads some to argue that the telcos do it willingly to make money. To be honest, it's such a drop in the bucket compared to other revenue streams, I'm not sure it really matters that much.

However, now it turns out that the government is really bad about paying -- at least according to Cricket. In answering the question about the money, Cricket noted that it doesn't make much, but the government often just ignores its invoices:
Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2706 Cricket is entitled to reimbursement for such costs as are reasonably necessary and which have been directly incurred in searching for, assembling, reproducing, or otherwise providing information in request to legal process received from law enforcement. For real-time requests for surveillance, Cricket is also entitled to reasonable reimbursement pursuant to 18 U.S.C 2518(4) for "reasonable expenses incurred in providing such facilities or assistance" in implementing Title III orders. Cricket is not entitled to, and does not make any profit on services rendered to law enforcement. Further, Cricket is frequently not paid on the invoices it submits to law enforcement. Cricket's fee schedule has not changed since the last response.
This is the first time I've seen that suggested anywhere. As awful as it may sound to see the federal government potentially paying companies to violate our privacy, it somehow seems even worse to promise to pay them, and then stiff them.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2013 @ 11:11am

    what would happen if the government was supposed to receive something from a company or person and then didn't? all hell would break loose!
    as it is, i think it is totally wrong for any company in these situations, without specific warrants regarding specific people to be forced to hand over information to the government anyway

     

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    Nastybutler77 (profile), Dec 12th, 2013 @ 11:53am

    Cricket should do what most companies do with a customer who doesn't pay: Cut off service.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2013 @ 1:22pm

      Re:

      Unfortunately, Cricket can't do that, or they end up with Federal charges, court time, lawsuits, and general harassment.

       

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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Dec 12th, 2013 @ 12:12pm

    Oh, Mike believes everything from a corporation.

    "Cricket is not entitled to, and does not make any profit on services rendered to law enforcement." -- That's FAR different from not being re-imbursed, which can include exorbitant and entirely "legal" rates that are never checked, not least from, say, lawyers charging $300 just for signing off each routine request of which they do ten an hour. So unless you have an actual detailed statement, Mike, that you've verified in person by viewing each step of the process, this is almost certainly sheer self-serving baloney.

    And "frequently not paid" does not mean NEVER: they may submit duplicate bills every week and only get paid once a month. This is clearly lawyerly double-talk, not anything to trust.

    Anyone with actual experience in business would know that over-charging the gov't is standard, almost entirely safe, especially when a "secret" project, and even if caught, after a few years of arguing only have to pay back a small fraction of what was stolen, making out like bandits just on the accrued interest of having the cash in escrow.

    When all you have is an economics degree, everything looks like a corporation.

    08:11:55[j-122-1]

     

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  •  
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    Anon E. Mous (profile), Dec 12th, 2013 @ 12:22pm

    Well the government is screwing everyone with their data collection may as well screw over some other entities as well too. I am sure they hate to see anyone left out

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2013 @ 12:24pm

    As awful as it may sound to see the federal government potentially paying companies to violate our privacy, it somehow seems even worse to promise to pay them, and then stiff them.

    I don't think cricket specified the federal government as the one's not paying. They just said law enforcement.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2013 @ 12:48pm

    Signing the check that pays the bill for spying on your constituency is not a good career move for an elected official.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2013 @ 12:56pm

    That brings forward another point.. adding up the requests total from each ISP ..Telecos . has any done a FOIA request for those billing statements and receipts .. I looked around online and couldn't find anything..

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2013 @ 1:16pm

    Noisy ads

    Mike - obviously off topic, BUT, in the bottom-most "A word from Our Sponsors..." window, an add for Airborne tablets from:

    http://www.drugstore.com/search/search_results.asp?Go.y=-89&Ntx=mode+matchallpartial&CS RFToken=YrNELHfuzFimLi9CL3B36DtaGgVHttm3Kp2ioe6qXvc=&Ntk=All&Go.x=-864&N=4294936070& Ntt=airborne&srchtree=1&in_nav=1&aid=333840&aparam=R82NkS7wwXk-CmwOQ7FhGS1vG3Q.5Tlt3 w

    and another from here:

    http://delsym.com/adult-cough-medicine?utm_source=OLV&utm_medium=OLV_15Preroll&utm_camp aign=Delsym_2013&utm_content=AdultCoughRelief

    Both starting between 1 and 2 minutes after the window is opened - INCLUDING THIS ONE!

    You really gotta get a handle on your advertisers.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2013 @ 3:01pm

      Re: Noisy ads

      I second that... same thing here quite often...

       

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      •  
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        btrussell (profile), Dec 12th, 2013 @ 5:43pm

        Re: Re: Noisy ads

        You need adblock plus or no-script for firefox. Flashblock is a third.

        I don't get any of that even on this windows machine.

         

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          BernardoVerda (profile), Dec 13th, 2013 @ 7:23pm

          Re: Re: Re: Noisy ads

          Ads pay the freight.

          So I settle for Ghostery (set to block "analytics", "beacons" and most "widgets" web-bugs) and also FlashBlock (I'll put up with advertisements, but not distracting, animated, visual noise).

          But I won't use AdBlock -- it feels rather like cheating;

          and after all, in the end, I *want* my favourite sites to be economically viable.

           

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            btrussell (profile), Dec 15th, 2013 @ 4:11am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Noisy ads

            "... (I'll put up with advertisements, but not distracting, animated, visual noise)."

            You've set your limits, do you mind if I set mine or do you do it for me?

             

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    Londo Mollari (profile), Dec 12th, 2013 @ 3:17pm

    Not unexpected.

    And this is a surprise to you, Mr. Masnick? Our government—which includes law enforcement—excels at wasting other people's money, and stiffing those they owe on the bill is simply another part of that insufferable game they play. The truly sad thing is that the telcos only have themselves to blame for this unfortunate situation. Not that I pity them much, as eager as they have been to feed the government beast every scrap of our information they can get their hands on.

     

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    Gwiz (profile), Dec 12th, 2013 @ 5:15pm

    Title Change?

     

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      Gwiz (profile), Dec 12th, 2013 @ 5:20pm

      Re: Title Change?

      Did the title of this article change from when it was first posted or did I have some sort of flashback to the hazy days of my twenties?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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        The Wanderer (profile), Dec 12th, 2013 @ 5:30pm

        Re: Re: Title Change?

        Yes, it changed.

        If you pay attention and compare Techdirt article titles with the matching URLs, you can see that this actually seems to happen semi-frequently - I'd ballpark-guesstimate at least once a week on average.

        I'll admit this is the first time I've definitely caught it both before and after the change, though.

         

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2013 @ 5:48pm

    Well, it would not be the first time government promises were broken.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 13th, 2013 @ 2:31am

    Lie with dogs....

    And you end up getting fleas. When will they learn that collaborating with evil will always get you screwed over in the end?

     

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    identicon
    Commander, Dec 24th, 2013 @ 9:00pm

    Federal government

    S, it seems like the federal governmet is using taxpayers money, to spy on the taxpayers? Does anyone want to chime in on this? http://myautomatedloot.com

     

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    identicon
    Michael Rosenstein, Jan 28th, 2014 @ 4:34am

    Comment!!

    Well the goverment always promises something without sticking to its promise. It is not the first and the lasttime somethnig like this happens.

    http://www.companylitigation.net

     

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