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Communications The Almighty Buck

Comcast Charges $1000 Per Wiretap 178 178

It seems trashing the Fourth Amendment is very profitable: For one company, FISA wiretaps carry a $1K pricetag

Comcast, which is among the nation's largest telecommunication companies, charges $1,000 to install a FISA wiretap and $750 for each additional month authorities want to keep an eye on suspects, according to the company's Handbook for Law Enforcement. Secrecy News obtained the document and published it Monday.
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Comcast charges $1000 per wiretap

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  • posted before?
  • illegal? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kharchenko (303729) on Monday October 22, 2007 @08:30AM (#21070755)
    It talks about FISA-court approved wiretaps ... how come the title says illegal?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      You're right. At least with FISA, there is some judicial oversight. Of course, this is judicial oversight by a secret court with closed proceedings in direct violation of the Constitution (right to be protected against unreasonable/unwarranted searches and seizures, right to a fair trial by jury of your peers) but at least it's technically legal under the Foreign Intelligence and Security Act.

      • Re:illegal? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by grylnsmn (460178) on Monday October 22, 2007 @08:58AM (#21070997)
        Actually, you are way off base, for several reasons.

        Yes, you are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures, but the presumption is that because a warrant is only issued by a judge "upon probable cause", a search based on that warrant is not unreasonable, because it is "supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized", and there are penalties for perjury.

        There is also nothing in the Fourth Amendment that requires that you be informed of a warrant issued against you before it is carried out (in fact, if you were notified of a wiretap warrant, the wiretap would be completely useless, regardless of whether the court that issued it was a "secret court" or not).

        Finally, what does the "right to a fair trial by jury of your peers" have to do with warrants and wiretaps? Warrants and wiretaps are used prior to the trial to gather evidence. The trial is when it is presented to the judge and jury. In fact, the FISA court does not hear criminal cases. It only handles matters like issuing warrants and reviewing of classified information.

        So, where is any of that a violation of the Constitution?
        • Re:illegal? (Score:5, Funny)

          by jabster (198058) on Monday October 22, 2007 @09:02AM (#21071033)
          Stop that.

          I read smatterings of logic and intelligence in your post.

          This is slashdot.

          We will have none of that here.

          Now be off with you.

          -john
        • by rtb61 (674572)
          Consider this, should a warrant be issued for search and seizure, and that search or seizure fails to lead to a prosecution, by logical definition would not that warrant be 'unreasonable' and the oath or affirmation used to obtain the warrant be defamation and bearing false witness.

          The real reason for oversight is to place limits upon individuals who get carried away with the power given them and when that power is abused that a warrant be issued for their arrest and prosecution. By avoiding oversight the

        • The problem with your argument is that, you have this implicit assumption that the Congress is allowed to make whatever law it wants to. It cannot. The Constitution is not a document that says what rights we the people have. It is a document that enumerates the limited powers of the federal government. Wiretapping and intercepting the communications of an American citizen is not a power specifically granted to the Congress by the Constitution, and therefor, wiretaps and FISA courts, all of that stuff, i
          • by grylnsmn (460178) on Monday October 22, 2007 @01:39PM (#21074249)
            Actually, intercepting communications of American citizens is explicitly allowed in the Fourth Amendment, with a valid warrant. (That limitation doesn't even apply in the case of foreign communications - that's simply called espionage.) All that the Constitution requires for the issuance of a warrant is "probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized". As long as that criteria is fulfilled, then the warrant is valid.

            There is no requirement that the warrant be public, nor are there strictly any constitutional requirements on who has to issue the warrant (although traditionally that is done by either a judge or a justice of the peace).

            Moreover, the power to pass FISA is covered in the Constitution, Article III Section 1: "The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish." Because the FISA court doesn't try either criminal or civil cases (it is limited to issuing warrants and reviewing classified materials, not conducting trials), there is no need to involve a jury, and no need to publicize any aspects of its actions.

            Just because you don't like it doesn't mean that it is unconstitutional.
            • Actually, intercepting communications of American citizens is explicitly allowed in the Fourth Amendment, with a valid warrant. (That limitation doesn't even apply in the case of foreign communications - that's simply called espionage.) All that the Constitution requires for the issuance of a warrant is "probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized". As long as that criteria is fulfilled, then the warrant is va

              • by grylnsmn (460178)
                At the time, communications were primarily in the form of letters, which are both "papers" and "things" last I checked.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by nuzak (959558)
        The FISA court is largely a rubber-stamp thing, but they do serve one vital purpose: they leave a paper trail. And Congress, not the executive branch, oversees the FISA court.

        They're certainly not a shining example of democratic ideals, but they are a damn sight better than the powers arrogated by this administration.

        Oh wait, I forgot: we're at war. Forever.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Pharmboy (216950)
      Correct. If these were "Patriot Act" taps outside FISA, then the term 'illegal' *might* could be used, in quotes. A bit of sensationalizing that Taco let through. Still, a nice payday for Comcast.
    • by Speare (84249)

      See, the secret illegal wiretaps don't even have to incur that FISA-approved tap charge. They just say "do it, or else" to the telco, and I bet the telco doesn't get to add a line item on the accounting ledger.

      • They just say "do it, or else" to the telco, and I bet the telco doesn't get to add a line item on the accounting ledger.

        Without pay, I would bet the lag time would be long.. As a private company with a task to perform, the unpaid task would be bottom priority like most of their coustomer service requests.
        • > "Without pay, I would bet the lag time would be long.. As a private company with a task to perform, the unpaid task would be bottom priority like most of their coustomer service requests."

          Always follow the money ...

          Or in this case, "there's no whore like an old whore ..." (f*cking your customers for $1k + $750/m, like Comcast customers aren't already screwed enough ...)

    • It is now 9:35am and the title of the write-up has already been revised — without even the customary note to the effect — but the write-up itself still laments the "thrashing of the Fourth Amendment".

      Apparently, there is nothing the Law Enforcement part of the government can do, that would be "legal" in the predominant opinion here.

      All things considered, that's, probably, a good thing — even if incorrect or exaggerated...

  • by Cryophallion (1129715) on Monday October 22, 2007 @08:35AM (#21070797)
    After announcing this, they notified the black market that it would be $2,000.00 a month to notify people being illegally tapped that they were being illegally tapped.

    When confronted by the govt, they let them know that secrecy, much like their internet connection uptime, is in no way guaranteed under the current terms.

    For guaranteed privacy, it is $5,000.00 per month. However, if they only listen on nights and weekends, the fee is slightly reduced.

    Talk about creating shareholder value!
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by davitf (522408)
      Comcast has also announced a revenue-sharing program in which participating customers will receive a percentage of the money earned through any wiretaps on their accounts. Unfortunately, unless the customer is also participating in the aforementioned notification program, they will only be informed of their earnings due to a particular wiretap after it has ended.

      According to customers, there is too much uncertainty involved with the current conditions. "I can't invest two grand a month without any profit gu
  • voip telephony. Looks like the $400 a year cell phone bill is here to stay... DAMN IT I DON'T EVEN LIVE IN THE U.S.!
    • voip telephony. Looks like the $400 a year cell phone bill is here to stay... DAMN IT I DON'T EVEN LIVE IN THE U.S.!

      Download and read the book. This applies to just the VOIP that Comcast provides in it's triple play package. If you use a third party VOIP solution, it is outside the scope of the offer. If you think you are protected by using a cell phone...
      It is time to look at what the government contractors are selling to your government.
      http://www.antennasystems.com/trapandtrace.html [antennasystems.com]
      This device works w
      • Of course good old fassioned copper phone lines are really insecure, anyone can climb up a telephone pole, open up the junction box and add a tap cable.
        • Over the internet, you can encrypt your communications. Safety falls in your court.
          Cell phone communications are a standard protocol. If you can crack one cell phone, you can crack them all.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mosch (204)
      $400/year cell phone bill? Sounds like a great deal!
  • by EWAdams (953502) on Monday October 22, 2007 @08:36AM (#21070805) Homepage
    I've got a short list of people for whom I'd cheerfully pay $1000 to get a wiretap transcript on. Let's see, Dick Cheney, Mr. Justice Clarence Thomas...
  • by Dekortage (697532) on Monday October 22, 2007 @08:38AM (#21070819) Homepage

    ...because they resisted the NSA [wired.com].

  • Eventually the taxpayer pays for his own wiretapping. Oh the irony. Nothing new though, the taxpayers pays for tax collection & enforcement, cute but sad.
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      Eventually the taxpayer pays for his own wiretapping. Oh the irony.

            He pays for his own incarceration, too. Perhaps you'd like this essay [gutenberg.org] by Henry David Thoreau...
  • by TechnoBunny (991156) on Monday October 22, 2007 @08:40AM (#21070829)
    ...on catching terrorismists!
  • by nweaver (113078) on Monday October 22, 2007 @08:40AM (#21070833) Homepage
    That is the price for a legal, court ordered wiretap.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MoonFog (586818)
      The article isn't wrong, in fact, the only place where the words ILLEGAL appear seem to be in the Slashdot headline. The article talks about FISA approved wiretappings.
  • by DragonPup (302885) on Monday October 22, 2007 @08:41AM (#21070841)
    If it truly a FISA wiretap, than the authorities obtained a warrant from a judge. What Bush does with warrantless wiretaps are *not* FISA wiretaps because no warrants are involved.

    Now, if you want to debate the Constitutionality of a FISA wiretap, that is a valid discussion, but the story does not even contain the word illegal anywhere. Read your own frakking article, and try to keep your story truthful.
  • The article's title and the blurb conflict. FISA is a law that provides a framework for issuing wiretap orders on the down-low. Wiretap orders obtained under the FISA law's requirements are, uh, obtained lawfully (although I do not like the law, it still *is* a law). Are these illegal wiretaps or not?
  • Irrespective of someone's personal beliefs, the government did pass this Orweillian law like it or not. So legally they're not "illegal wiretaps". With that said even the article specifies this: Upon lawful request and for a thousand dollars, Comcast, Don't be fooled though, for anyone who hasn't worked at an ISP, prior to implementing CALEA crap, any wiretap costs a company money. What do you think the feds are going to say "we need X tapped" and resources would automagically appear to configure parameters
  • Pinto? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Gothmolly (148874)
    So this is like when Ford decided that if each Pinto that exploded cost them less than 11 million USD in lawsuits, it was still worth producing the cars?
    • Re:Pinto? (Score:5, Funny)

      by ubrgeek (679399) on Monday October 22, 2007 @08:47AM (#21070917)
      JACK: Take the number of vehicles in the field (A), multiply it by the probable rate of failure (B), then multiply the result by the average out-of-court settlement (C). A times B times C equals X... If X is less that the cost of a recall, we don't do one.

      BUSINESS WOMAN: Are there a lot of these kinds of accident?

      JACK: You wouldn't believe.
  • by tgd (2822) on Monday October 22, 2007 @08:44AM (#21070881)
    If you would like to tap my internet and phones, I can cut out the middle man and give you what you need for a one-time setup cost of $600, and the low low price of $450 per month.

    (Now, if the monitoring program is secret, what can the IRS do if I don't report that income?)
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      I'll meet his $450 a month and I'll even guarantee a porn sound-track at least one night a week. Please wiretap me!
  • by John Hasler (414242) on Monday October 22, 2007 @08:45AM (#21070891) Homepage
    They are dealing with the Federal government. It may cost $990 to do the papaerwork.
  • Wait, forget the fact that FISA does allow the government to wiretap individuals legally following certain guidelines.

    Isn't the bigger problem the fact that this happens apparently so often that Comcast has a pricing structure for it? I mean, if it happened irregularly, Comcast would probably eat the cost as part of being a good citizen.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by isa-kuruption (317695)
      No. Comcast incurs costs for aiding investigations, therefore they need to recover those costs somehow. You can't expect them to just bite the bullet on the overhead of maintaining the systems needed to wiretap someone's internet connection or VOIP phone, dealing with the FBI, etc etc. It doesn't seem to me that Comcast is significantly altering their bottom line by charging a pittance $1000 for this, seems more like a cost of implementing and maintaining.

      It's common practice for organizations to estimat
  • If Comcast are as process driven as BT [bt.com], they will have a cost for every line item that's been repeated more than twice, and let's not fool ourselves here, they've done it more than that.
  • Profit! (Score:4, Funny)

    by failedlogic (627314) on Monday October 22, 2007 @09:04AM (#21071051)
    Modeled after all those movies on clandestine, stalker boyfriend movies... the illegal wiretap must be done as follows:

    1. Buy a white utility van. Buy a blue -not black- uniform so no one can see you under the streetlight. Your company name should have pizza or florist in it.
    2. Climb utility pole. Connect phone line to your headphones. Its not more technical than this. Now you hear all the phone conversations.
    3. ????
    4. Profit!!!
  • Scary accounting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Loosifur (954968) on Monday October 22, 2007 @09:13AM (#21071135)
    Best line from the article:

    "I was actually surprised that this was such a routine transaction that it would have a set fee," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy.

    Two things that I find strange. First, take this out of the context of FISA. If a state prosecutor, say, subpoenas records from a private business, do they routinely pay said business for the processing? Generally speaking, it seems that when a court orders something, you don't get paid for the time or effort. Even if you hire a lawyer to handle the subpoena process you don't get reimbursed for that. Maybe someone with some inside knowledge can fill me in here, but wouldn't you have to file a petition to have any processing costs refunded?

    Second thing that's a little quirky, why is there a maintenance fee? Why is there an initial cost? I wouldn't think that it's Comcast's own techs doing the surveillance. After all, when phone lines are tapped Verizon guys don't do the tapping. Is it to compensate for lost bandwidth? Doesn't seem likely. Again, if someone knows better, please fill me in, but it seems a bit strange that Comcast is able to charge money to allow the government to perform court-ordered surveillance.
    • There's a fee because the government wanted this to stay quiet. If this were a legitimate court ordered process, Comcast wouldn't get anything.

      Basically, it's hush money.
      • by cdrguru (88047)
        Paranoid bullshit. 99% of the document referenced refers to court-ordered wiretaps, like the sort that are obtained - VIA WARRANT - for drug lords, mob figures, etc.
    • It's different when your company is being subpoenaed for something relating to a crime they committed. However this is a case where the company in question isn't accused of a crime at all, they are being ordered to help investigate one. Ok fine, but you can't very well say they should have to do that for free, especially if they have to do it often. The police and courts can't just say "This related to a criminal investigation, we get everything for free."

      I mean consider another case: Suppose the cops suspe
  • Having anonymous unelected judges meeting in secret, passing secret rulings that rewrite foreign-intelligence law is scary. Congress should have never removed responsibility from our elected representatives by creating FISA. Somehow I don't think that's what the OP had in mind though.

    End the Stealth Government [nationalreview.com]
  • Commie-castic !!

    There a discount package on illegal wire tapping if you sign up for the Big Brother Deluxe Program
  • The phone companies must love criminals then, this is probably ~10 months or so bills per month, nice. That is why I mention Al Queda and Jihad in every phone call, I want to run up the FBI/NSA bill :)
  • Hey, Comcast, here's the deal. You give me the highest tier of Triple Play and all the premium channels for free, and I'll keep sprinkling "Osama Bin Laden", "Echelon", "terrorism", and other keywords into my Internet usage to keep the Feds interested. I won't even ask for a cut of what's left of the $750.

    I mean seriously, if the Feds are going to listen anyway <cough>AT&T</cough> I might as well get something out of it.

  • Well, shit. For $1,000 I'd tap my own line!
    • That just points towards what at value you assess the privacy of your communications, I think you could negotiate a much better price than that. Channel Shatner here: you're bargaining like a wimp or namby-pamby.

      Now, if I had bad intent, I'd possibly "clean up my act" and provide my correspondence to the government for the low price of $10k per month.

      Think of it as insurance, Mr. G-man. For one low price you don't have to worry about me committing any crimes or even talking about committing crimes, and
  • by OSPolicy (1154923) on Monday October 22, 2007 @10:34AM (#21071969) Homepage
    Page 58 of http://www.usdoj.gov/oig/reports/FBI/a0613/final.pdf [usdoj.gov] shows that $1K is pretty reasonable, depending on the type of wiretap. On page 56 of the report, it notes that $250 is typical for easy taps. However, the table on page 58 shows that $2200 is a lot more in line with certain types. Wiretapping is harder than it looks. The telecomm provider is typically responsible for making sure that the law enforcement agency (LEA) gets exactly what it is supposed to get, neither more nor less. They have to provide 24/7 support. In some cases, the LEA tries to prevent them from doing routine maintenance because doing things like rebooting switches drops taps. Depending on the particular type of tap, they're working for their $1000.
    • It is? when I was doing monitoring for the Army (early 80s) we just had the telco guys in the central office connect those lines into a punch block in the room we used. Then we'd just hook our gear to that block. I'd think with computerized switches it would be a lot easier, but haven't been in that business for a while so could be completely wrong on that.
  • I'll allow the government to monitor my cable line (internet, TV and voice) at a significant savings: order now at the low low rate of $695/month for the first 12 months, and we'll waive the $1000 setup fee! At prices like this, can you afford NOT to eavesdrop?!?
  • fee (Score:3, Informative)

    by corbosman (136668) on Monday October 22, 2007 @10:45AM (#21072115) Homepage
    I think a lot of people, including mr Aftergood, misunderstand the issue. The fact that there is a rate fee does not necessarily mean that it is such a common or even streamlined task. Ive been involved in this matter with an ISP in europe, where these things are already in law, and I think comcast is doing the right thing. By charging a fee, they make sure that there is at least some form of financial incentive for the police and/or justice department not to go overboard on wiretaps. And not only that, it can also be used to pay for the costs of the necessary infrastructure. This is not stuff you just buy at your local IT vendor, but needs to be implemented on a per-ISP bases in many cases. Wiretapping individual customers on 10 gbit meshed network with many redundant links is not trivial, especially if you want to make absolutely sure it holds up in court. The technology to do this is quite expensive, and needs to be paid by someone. In europe unfortunately most of the time that 'someone' is the ISP, and thus the customer. Governments have made wiretapping the financial responsibility of the ISP, which is really quite bad. Im glad to see Comcast was able to secure a payment from the government instead.

    Now, this is ofcourse separate from the issue of the fact if these types of wiretaps should be allowed in the first place. In many cases that battle has already been fought, and lost. Expect big brother to watch, and expand its possibilities significantly. In europe, they're already talking about legal datamining in all the combined government and private sector databases,

    make your vote count,

    Cor

  • Now *this* is the way to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Slashdot. Not only is this posting worded to stir up a story where there is none, its a dupe!

    Maybe they can sell a collection of dupes and over-hyped stories on eBay...

  • Well, if it's too expensive, the guvmint can always go to the competition, right?
  • 99% of the referenced document refers to CALEA, not FISA. These are ordinary, run-of-the-mill, catch-a-criminal wiretaps. The sort that are ordered VIA WARRANT for drug lords, mob figures and anyone else using the telephone in the furtherance of a criminal operation.

    Gosh, do you think there might actually be some CRIME going on in US cities? Of course not, since Bush took office all crime is now centralized in the White House, right? Do you actually believe that there is so little crime going on that th
  • If Comcast is able to charge for this, then it means that Comcast knows when it's happening. Maybe their help is even needed, to implement the tap.

    That means the process has a step where a non-government party can say, "Let me see the court order." That doesn't necessarily mean they're doing that, but at least it's a potential check against illegal stuff.

    One of my fears is that LE can do this stuff without anyone ever knowing they did it, whether they have a warrant or not. Fish away, and then, in the

  • I'm no financial wiz, but with Comcast being a publicly listed company wouldn't it be possible to see how much they've earned from this specific venture - and consequently how many taps they've implemented? Might be interesting to compare the figures year-by-year.

Some people manage by the book, even though they don't know who wrote the book or even what book.

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