Total Surveillance: The Fiscal Conservative Argument Against

It's goshdarn expensive, as reported by Associated Press via Star-Tribune:

In the era of intense government surveillance and secret court orders, a murky multimillion-dollar market has emerged. Paid for by U.S. tax dollars, but with little public scrutiny, surveillance fees charged in secret by technology and phone companies can vary wildly.

AT&T, for example, imposes a $325 "activation fee" for each wiretap and $10 a day to maintain it. Smaller carriers Cricket and U.S. Cellular charge only about $250 per wiretap. But snoop on a Verizon customer? That costs the government $775 for the first month and $500 each month after that, according to industry disclosures made last year to Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.

Email, unsurprisingly, is cheaper:

Meanwhile, email records like those amassed by the National Security Agency through a program revealed by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden probably were collected for free or very cheaply. Facebook says it doesn't charge the government for access. And while Microsoft, Yahoo and Google won't say how much they charge, the American Civil Liberties Union found that email records can be turned over for as little as $25.

How much in total is this costing us taxpayers? Ah, no one knows:

The FBI said it could not say how much it spends on industry reimbursements because payments are made through a variety of programs, field offices and case funds...

At least it's creating jobs!

 AT&T, for example, said it devotes roughly 100 employees to review each request and hand over data. Likewise, Verizon said its team of 70 employees works around the clock, seven days a week to handle the quarter-million requests it gets each year.

And some stuff comes for free:

Most companies agree not to charge in emergency cases like tracking an abducted child. They aren't allowed to charge for phone logs that reveal who called a line and how long they talked — such as the documents the Justice Department obtained about phones at The Associated Press during a leaks investigation — because that information is easily generated from automated billing systems.

An average wiretap costs $50K, and one narcotics case in NYC cost $2.9 million--money well spent, I'm sure.

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  • Gordilocks||

    "Facebook says it doesn't charge the government for access."

    Why doesn't Zuckerberg like gravy trains?

  • Drake||

    The NSA's budget is classified, but is somewhere in the $12 Billion neighborhood. I wonder how much of that could be cut if they stopped spying on American citizens?

  • Gray Ghost||

    The thing is, if they have direct feeds from all of the telecom's backbones, it probably doesn't cost them all that much to spy on the U.S. Even storing all telephone calls in the U.S., probably only costs them ~250 million USD/yr. A lot, but not when you're talking about 12 billion a year.

    I think the serious cash is spent on trying to grab signals from people who haven't let you tap in for free, using things like Rhyolite, Magnum and whatever else they've launched at several billion USD per copy.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    AT&T, for example, said it devotes roughly 100 employees to review each request and hand over data. Likewise, Verizon said its team of 70 employees works around the clock, seven days a week to handle the quarter-million requests it gets each year.

    Wasn't there some toolbox a couple of weeks ago who declared that the individual citizen wasn't important enough to be spied on, therefore had nothing to fear from the NSA?

    Good times. Good times.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Cost is no object when you're spending money you stole.

  • ThisGuy||

    this is ridiculous.

  • ThisGuy||

    this is ridiculous.

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