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.

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Companies: cricket

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Comments on “Law Enforcement Fails To Pay Telco Bills For Coughing Up Your Info”

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out_of_the_blue says:

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.


Anonymous Coward says:

Noisy ads

Mike – obviously off topic, BUT, in the bottom-most “A word from Our Sponsors…” window, an add for Airborne tablets from:

and another from here:

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

You really gotta get a handle on your advertisers.

BernardoVerda says:

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.

Londo Mollari (profile) says:

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.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

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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