ISPs Remain Silent on Lucrative Wiretap Business

Dennis Faas's picture

A barely-noticed letter from Yahoo to the U.S. Marshals Service has revealed surveillance policies that allow the US Justice Department to request wiretaps of its users. The 12-page letter (in PDF format), in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, claimed that Yahoo couldn't provide the information on their policies because their pricing scheme would 'shock' customers. (Source:

A Yahoo lawyer wrote that if the pricing information was disclosed, it would be used to shame Yahoo and other companies and to traumatize their customers. (Source:

Yahoo: Wiretapping is a Competitive Disadvantage

Ironically, Yahoo's attorney wrote that the release of the company's information could impair Yahoo's reputation for protecting user privacy and security, noting that such disclosure is a competitive disadvantage for technology companies. (Source:

Yahoo believes they are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act law because their wiretap price sheet was submitted to the U.S. Marshals Service voluntarily.

Verizon Doesn't Want to Confuse Consumers

A 4-page letter (PDF) from Verizon claims that it would be 'confusing,' so they can't provide details on how much they charge for wiretaps. Verizon claims that its customers may see a listing of records, information or assistance that is only available to law enforcement.

Verizon also claims that consumers might become unnecessarily afraid that their lines have been tapped if this information is released. Verizon receives tens of thousands of requests for customer records from various law enforcement agencies.

Cox Communications and Comcast Wiretap Fees

Cox Communications charges $2,500 to fulfill a pen register/trap-and-trace order for 60 days, and $2,000 for each additional 60-day-interval, $3,500 for the first 30 days of a wiretap and $2,500 for each additional 30 days. 30 days worth of a customer's call detail records costs $40. (Source:

As of 2007, records show Comcast charges at least $1,000 for the first month of a wiretap and $750 per month thereafter. U.S. taxpayer dollars pay for all of the surveillance conducted by the government.

Elsewhere, Sprint Nextel provided law enforcement agencies with its customers' GPS location information over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009. That's only for GPS; it doesn't include requests for basic identification and billing information, or wiretaps. (Source:

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