NSA

US Sues Sprint For Overbilling For Surveillance Services

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Sprint \ Wikimedia

Monday, the Obama administration filed a lawsuit in a district court, claiming Sprint knowingly charged $21 million extra in spying fees between 2007 and 2010.

Sprint, the telecommunications provider, complied with court orders to wiretap for the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Bureau of Alcohol, and other government agencies. It charged the U.S. government reimbursement fees for the costs of complying with wiretaps and intercepts.

But the government finds fault with this. The U.S. points to the Communications Assistance in Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), a law that makes wiretapping more manageable for law enforcement agencies. Associated Press explains:

In 1994, lawmakers passed a law requiring communication companies to upgrade their equipment and facilities to ensure they can comply with court orders seeking wiretaps of their customers. 

Section 103 of the law says that carriers are "prohibited from using their intercept charges to recover the costs of modifying equipment, facilities or services that were incurred," U.S. attorneys wrote in the complaint. But Sprint did charge for these services, and it led to a 58 percent hike in expenses for the federal government.

The Electric Frontier Foundation, in a FAQ disputing the law, argued that demanding telecommunication companies pick up the tab for government's surveillance expenses is unreasonable. Added costs for the carrier are most likely passed on to the consumer. "Quite literally," it reads, "consumers would be subsidizing the surveillance state."

Regardless, Sprint thinks that the law rolls in its favor and that the government must pony up for the added expenses incurred. Sprint issued a statement to Ars Technica:

Under the law, the government is required to reimburse Sprint for its reasonable costs incurred when assisting law enforcement agencies with electronic surveillance. The invoices Sprint has submitted to the government fully comply with the law.

The U.S. seeks $63 million, or triple the costs incurred, if Sprint is found guilty.

The telecommunications company will challenge the lawsuit, "We have fully cooperated with this investigation and intend to defend this matter vigorously."

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  1. Section 103 of the law says that carriers are “prohibited from using their intercept charges to recover the costs of modifying equipment, facilities or services that were incurred,”

    Now that’s government chutzpah: “We mandate that you spend money to make it easier for us to force you to do something, but when we force you to do it, you can’t charge us extra.”

    1. Be nice if they could just refuse to comply next time, but we all know how that would turn out for Sprint.

    2. Government 101: First make them do something, then you pay them, then tax them on that payment and then claim you were charged too much. And then spend more then that trying to weasel out of it.

    3. Seems like it would’ve been easier to write the law to state that the government will pay what it feels like for the service, and disputes will be handled by a special FYTW court.

    4. It’s a great racket. You get to write a law forcing companies to serve you, and write another law barring them from charging you for it.

  2. So, the Federal government is experiencing buyer’s remorse.

  3. It occurs to me that this case will never be resolved because both the federal government and the phone company are experts in the field of giving other parties the run around.

    1. Clash of the Weasels. It’ll be resolved in about 2095.

  4. “Quite literally,” it reads, “consumers would be subsidizing the surveillance state.”

    WE ALREADY DO.

  5. As de facto government contractors, they should at least get $10.10 an hour.

  6. Isn’t this a distinction without a difference? Either we pay the phone company through higher fees or we pay the gov to pay the phone company through taxes.

    1. Exactly! Basically, the only difference is that we could all pay the $21m to Sprint through higher fees… or we could all pay $50m to the government so they could pay $21m to Sprint and spend the rest on their required bureaucracy.

      So, really, the government would be saving us money by requiring Sprint to foot the bill. Naturally, that’s why they are suing Sprint for $63m.

  7. Somebody didn’t kickback to Organizing for America.

  8. a law that makes wiretapping more manageable for law enforcement agencies

    Well…..yeah. Duh. You think the laws should make shit “more manageable” for little people??! Da FUCK??!

  9. Here’s hoping Sprint offers up a bunch of evidence that is riddled with “national security” info. The gov. will then demand that Sprint not be allowed to present evidence supporting their defense. The judge will then rule in favor of Sprint.

    Because, unfortunately, somebody has to win this lawsuit.

    1. The judge will then rule in favor of Sprint.

      You wish.

  10. “In 1994, lawmakers passed a law requiring communication companies to upgrade their equipment and facilities to ensure they can comply with court orders seeking wiretaps of their customers.”

    Fuck this kind of law. I should not be required to do anything just because the government wants something made easier for themselves.

  11. Also, fuck Tulpa. This is exactly the kind of shit he’s okay with.

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