AT&T, Verizon And Sprint Charging This Much For Cellphone Wiretap

Posted on Apr 5 2012 - 6:26am by Editorial Staff

With the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had found that officers routinely use phone location data when pursuing cases, often without a warrant. Forbes has reviewed a 2009 document that apparently instructs Tucson, Arizona police on how much AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and others charged at that point for everything from wiretaps to voicemail. Here are some more standout bits:

  • Wiretaps or traces generally cost between $375 and $500 to activate, sometimes with an additional per diem fee of $10 for 30 days.
  • In some cases, voicemail cost extra to retrieve: Sprint, for example, puts it at $60.
  • Sprint and Verizon offered to retrieve both picture and SMS content for a fee; T-Mobile apparently did not store this information, and AT&T did not provide a cost breakdown.
  • VoIP services like Skype and Vonage were listed in the document, but all pricing information was blank.
  • Most carriers offered automated tracking tools for location data; these cost between $30 a month and $100 a day.

In an emailed statement to Forbes, a Verizon spokesperson told that the company doesn’t charge police in “emergency cases, nor do we charge law enforcement for historical location information in non-emergency cases.” He added that the company doesn’t “make a profit from any of the data requests from law enforcement.” A Sprint spokesperson sent me a statement saying that the company similarly doesn’t charge law enforcement for data requests in “exigent circumstances.”

“Fees are charged to law enforcement in other circumstances such as court ordered requests and it’s important to note that any fee charged is for recovery of cost required to support these law enforcement requests 24/7,” she writes. T-Mobile declined to comment, and an AT&T spokesperson referred the company’s privacy policy, pointing out a specific line that reads, “We do not sell your personal information to anyone for any purpose.  Period.”

That claim is “simply misleading,” says Catherine Crump, an attorney with the ACLU who coordinated the group’s FOIA project. “That’s a curious definition of ‘sell,’ given that they seem to be charging money for people’s information on a regular basis and handing it over to law enforcement agencies around the country.”

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