This Is How Much Carriers Charge for Cellphone Wiretaps

Illustration for article titled This Is How Much Carriers Charge for Cellphone Wiretaps

Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that phone tracking was an extremely widespread phenomenon across US police forces. Now, another of their leaked documents reveals how much cell carriers charge for the services.


In fact, flicking through the document makes it seem like a rather day-to-day practice. It lists the costs of different data requests— from targeted wiretaps to dumps that provide information on every user of a certain cell tower—for every major carrier. Sadly, it dates from 2009—so the prices may be a little different now—but that doesn't stop it being fascinating reading. As Forbes neatly summarises:

Wiretaps cost hundreds of dollars per target every month, generally paid at daily or monthly rates. To wiretap a customer's phone, T-Mobile charges law enforcement a flat fee of $500 per target. Sprint's wireless carrier Sprint Nextel requires police pay $400 per "market area" and per "technology" as well as a $10 per day fee, capped at $2,000. AT&T charges a $325 activation fee, plus $5 per day for data and $10 for audio. Verizon charges a $50 administrative fee plus $700 per month, per target.

Data requests for voicemail or text messages cost extra. AT&T demands $150 for access to a target's voicemail, while Verizon charges $50 for access to text messages. Sprint offers the most detailed breakdown of fees for various kinds of data on a phone, asking $120 for pictures or video, $60 for email, $60 for voice mail and $30 for text messages.

All four telecom firms also offer so-called "tower dumps" that allow police to see the numbers of every user accessing a certain cell tower over a certain time at an hourly rate. AT&T charges $75 per tower per hour, with a minimum of two hours. Verizon charges between $30 and $60 per hour for each cell tower. Sprint demands $150 per cell
tower per hour, and Sprint charges $50 per tower, seemingly without an hourly rate.

For location data, the carrier firms offer automated tools that let police track suspects in real time. Sprint charges $30 per month per target to use its L-Site program for location tracking. AT&T's E911 tool costs $100 to activate and then $25 a day. T-Mobile charges a much pricier $100 per day.


It's worth noting that carriers don't charge in emergency cases. Speaking to Forbes, a Sprint spokesperson also explained that carriers don't make a profit from these data requests. While that may well be the case, the normality of the whole situation is what's most worrying. While you can't buy freedom, it seems you can buy whatever the hell data you want. [Scribd via Forbes]

Image by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock

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I'm no law man, but is that legal?

That would be like a landlord charging police $500 before allowing them to search an apartment that they (the police) already have a warrant for.

At least it is that way in my mind.


Wait... can landlords do that?