AT&T is currently employing 100 workers who do nothing but respond to government surveillance requests.
The requests made by government entities is a huge multi-million dollar market ripe for the taking. AT&T charges a $325 “activation fee” for each wiretap and then charges government agencies $10 per day to maintain the wiretap connection. In comparison, U.S. Cellular charges $250 per wiretap. Verizon Wireless is by far the most expensive service provider at $775 for the first month and $500 for each month following.
Wireless carrier fees for government surveillance far exceeds that of their technology counterparts. For example, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google are believed to charge around $25 per request.
AT&T and other carriers say they don’t profit from the hundreds of thousands of government data requests they receive each year. Those same agencies claim that civil liberties groups want them to charge so the programs don’t become a free-for-all for government requests.
Christopher Soghoian, the ACLU’s principal technologist, tells BusinessInsider:
“What we don’t want is surveillance to become a profit center, it’s always better to charge $1. It creates friction, and it creates transparency” because it generates a paper trail that can be tracked.”
As government agencies push for real-time access to instant messaging, social network, and other platforms the amount of money earned through government spying programs is likely to rapidly increase.
So much money is now spent on eavesdropping programs that the FBI isn’t sure how much it spends. Officials at the Bureau claim that payments are made through field offices, case funds, and other avenues which makes tracking payments difficult.
Eavesdropping shouldn’t come as a surprise after Congress in 1994 allotted $500 million for phone companies to retrofit their equipment to allow for digital network wiretapping.
AT&T hired 100 workers for the government surveillance program so it can review each request for validity. Employees look over requests, ensure they are valid, and then approve or deny each request.
AT&T earns its money by charging a fee for “searching for, assembling, reproducing and otherwise providing” communications content or records.
Costs to perform searches and wiretaps must be “reasonably necessary” and “mutually agreed” upon with the government.
AT&T collected approximately $24 million in government reimbursements between 2007 and 2011.
Do you think fees for government requests should be hire to discourage rampant surveillance requests?