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
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.