I want government to successfully and rationally fight crime and stop terrorism. That’s a perfectly appropriate libertarian sentiment since protecting life, liberty, and property are among the few legitimate roles for government.
But I don’t want to give bureaucrats carte blanche to monitor our lives and I don’t want to waste money in those cases where it is proper for the government to snoop on bad guys.
And those are some of the sentiments I expressed in this panel for Forbes on Fox.
My wonkish concern for cost-benefit analysis and corporate welfare is not empty posturing. There’s real money involved.
How much are your private conversations worth to the U.S. government? Turns out, it can be a lot, depending on the technology. …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… Industry says it doesn’t profit from the hundreds of thousands of government eavesdropping requests it receives each year… “What we don’t want is surveillance to become a profit center,” said Christopher Soghoian, the ACLU’s principal technologist. But “it’s always better to charge $1. It creates friction, and it creates transparency” because it generates a paper trail that can be tracked. …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.
I confess that I’m not an expert – or even a novice – on the details of law enforcement, but I’m glad that my speculation on the low cost of setting up a wiretap seems to have been accurate. At least based on this excerpt from the article.
In 2009, then-New York criminal prosecutor John Prather sued several major telecommunications carriers in federal court in Northern California in 2009, including AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, for overcharging federal and state police agencies. In his complaint, Prather said phone companies have the technical ability to turn on a switch, duplicate call information and pass it along to law enforcement with little effort. Instead, Prather says his staff, while he was working as a city prosecutor, would receive convoluted bills with extraneous fees. The case is pending.
This article, as well as the Forbes on Fox debate, deal with general law enforcement, not the controversy about NSA data collection and monitoring.
But I can’t resist sharing this excellent bit of NSA-related humor that arrived in my inbox.
Very similar in quality and theme to this great set of images.
And if you appreciate political cartoons on this topic, here are some of my favorites. I think the one featuring Nixon and Bush is the best of the bunch.
Last but not least, here are my thoughts on the NSA/Snowden controversy if you want some non-humorous analysis.