April 13, 2004 4:29 PM PDT

Feds seek limits on wiretap costs

Hoping to contain "skyrocketing" costs, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has asked the Federal Communications Commission to limit how much U.S. cell phone service providers charge law enforcement to wiretap calls.

After a period of spiking prices, Spitzer's office now spends a budget-busting $400,000 to $500,000 annually on wiretaps, while some smaller law enforcement agencies aren't using the basic crime-fighting tactic at all, according to a document Spitzer filed Monday with the FCC.

"Such a cost-recovery scheme (makes) intercepts prohibitively expensive for virtually all law enforcement agencies, and result in depriving law enforcement of an essential crime-fighting and anti-terror tool," he added.

Cell phone service providers have warned for more than a decade that wiretapping would be an expensive proposition, much more so than traditional phone networks. Furthermore, there are mechanisms in place that allow law enforcement agencies to dispute any wiretapping costs if they feel they are being overcharged, a representative for the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), a cell phone industry trade group, said in response to Spitzer's request to the FCC.

According to Spitzer, a yearlong wiretap costs between $5,000 to $26,400, depending on which U.S. cell phone service provider is doing the setup and maintenance. The CTIA representative did not comment on figures Spitzer's office provided.

Spitzer's request is likely to be supported by the FBI, which has complained in the past of the high costs of wiretapping a cell phone call. An FBI representative had no immediate comment.

Spitzer's request was part of a larger FCC filing in support of making present-day wiretap rules apply to broadband providers. The FBI has said it asked for the changes because criminals are now favoring voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), cell phone push-to-talk and other unregulated communications services.

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Usage is usage - they use, they pay
Wow...The Feds are trying to create a special-case scenario for themselves, aren't they? Trying to gain a sort of "preferred" rate on their wireless costs?

I think we all would like our wireless bills to be lower - But a federal agency is a user too, infact, they are a very bandwidth-hungry user.

If a wiretap is applied to a wireless account (how about SkyTap? There are no wires to tap...) then that account is active 24/7, since the feds don't want to just hear the conversations, but to view the data streaming to the user as well.

How much would any of us have to pay to use our wireless services 24/7 over a 1 month period? How about 6 months?

There's 1440 Minutes in ONE day...10080 Minutes in one week...No doubt they want a discount!

Now, consider that a SkyTap (wiretap) investigation would *probably* last more than a week, apply whatever your $/min costs are to that, and cascade the result over a few months - That's how much of your tax money they're asking permission to, well, waste...

How many people in the Tri-State area are being WireTappped right now with their LandLines? Thousands...More? How about the SanAndreas/LA area?

The ball is in your court people - The people are the only ones able to stop it. Tell your representative "NO", this is a big waste of resources....Cash, bandwidth, and man-hours which could all be far better applied.

Just my two cents, in a world full of dollars.

Justin Brown
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