For one company, FISA wiretaps carry a $1K pricetag
Nick Juliano
Published: Tuesday October 16, 2007
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Although the scope of surveillance conducted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act remains shrouded in secrecy, newly disclosed documents show the costs one company charges the government to eavesdrop on customers.

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.

"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.

Aftergood, who runs the Secrecy News blog, told RAW STORY that the Comcast document was the only one he has seen outlining wiretap procedures and costs, so he couldn't compare Comcast's fees with those charged by other telecoms.

The Comcast handbook says the company will comply with legal requests from federal, state and local authorities to monitor the communications of criminal suspects, and the company notes legal ambiguity surrounding some of the more controversial tools that have emerged since Sept. 11, 2001.

The manual says an FBI agent must hand deliver National Security Letters to Comcast's headquarters in Philadelphia.

"Upon receipt Comcast will handle all documents with the appropriate care and security as required by law," the handbook says. "Attention must be paid to the various court proceedings in which the legal status of such requests is at issue."

Aftergood acknowledged that the handbook doesn't do much by way of establishing the scope of FISA surveillance or NSLs.

"I think it's more or an interesting nugget" of information," Aftergood said. "Even if there are let's say 100 or 200 $1,000 payments (for FISA intercepts) over the course of a year, I think those would be indistinguishable from the larger revenue stream."