Print 31 comment(s) - last by PrezWeezy.. on Oct 23 at 3:09 PM

Bending the Fourth Amendment for fun and profit

Government authorities serving Comcast, the largest cable operator and second largest ISP in the United States, with wiretap requests under federal wiretap statutes are required to pay $1,000 per request, with a service fee of $750 each month after, says a recently leaked copy of the Comcast Cable Law Enforcement Handbook (PDF).

The document, which is presumably given to law enforcement personnel involved in investigations, notes several other interesting policies regarding Comcast’s compliance: in one example, FBI agents are required to hand-deliver National Security Letters to Comcast’s headquarters, located in Philadelphia.

The handbook also describes strict rules for positively identifying wiretap targets before a wiretap can be installed, and includes specific instructions and examples on verifying a suspect’s IP address and other information.  Law enforcement authorities can generally do this within 180 days the date in question, as DHCP logs – Comcast subscribers are not given static IPs, and instead are frequently assigned dynamic IPs via DHCP – expire and are purged within six months.

Some have expressed concern over the Comcast’s policy of charging – and most likely, profiting – from what many consider to be a violation of people’s right to privacy. “If there are … 100 or 200 $1,000 payments for [wiretap requests] over the course of a year, I think those would be indistinguishable from the larger revenue stream,” says Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy.

According to the handbook, the $1,000 and $750 service fee is required for the “deployment of an intercept device,” and is only waived in investigations regarding “child exploitation.”

Overall, the handbook reveals that Comcast is attempting to comply closely with the letter of the law, which contains strict rules regarding positive identification and due process.

“Comcast will assist law enforcement agencies in their investigations while protecting subscriber privacy as required by law and applicable privacy policies,” says the handbook, but notes that “attention must be paid to the various court proceedings in which the legal status of such requests is at issue.”

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By therealnickdanger on 10/22/2007 5:53:58 PM , Rating: 3
Not sure how I feel about this one. I personally have nothing against wire-tapping and I don't think the government (taxpayers) should pay any more than we already do to maintain our justice system. This seems like exploitation by Comcast. Aren't all communications companies required to cooperate with law enforcement in order to attain their operating license?

RE: Hmm.
By James Holden on 10/22/2007 5:59:40 PM , Rating: 2
You also have to think though, if Comcast didn't have that charge, how many frivolous wiretaps would we have?

I'm not sure how I feel about this either. Interesting article :)

RE: Hmm.
By Furen on 10/22/2007 7:08:15 PM , Rating: 3
That's the crux of the matter, there shouldn't be any frivolous wiretaps. A wiretap requires court approval (or a NS letter, nowadays) so it's not something that can be deployed on a whim. I kind of like Comcast's policy, actually, because it should prevent organizations from keeping long-term wiretaps on people unless there is a good reason to do so. Also remember that there are costs associated with the handling of data and the implementation of the wiretap itself, so a $750 a month charge may not be THAT much of a profit.

RE: Hmm.
By omnicronx on 10/23/2007 10:23:34 AM , Rating: 3
because it should prevent organizations from keeping long-term wiretaps on people unless there is a good reason to do so.
No it doesn't, it just adds to a costly bill that you(the taxpayer) ends up paying.. Cost affective and government agency do not go well in the same sentence ;)

RE: Hmm.
By fic2 on 10/23/2007 12:29:04 PM , Rating: 1
A wiretap requires court approval (or a NS letter, nowadays) so it's not something that can be deployed on a whim.

Have you met the Bush administration?

RE: Hmm.
By mdogs444 on 10/23/2007 12:30:43 PM , Rating: 1
Oh here we go.....go post that liberal shit on the Media Matters website. Its the only place where everyone believes that crap.

RE: Hmm.
By augiem on 10/22/2007 7:08:30 PM , Rating: 4
Somehow I doubt $1000 is going to deter the federal government.

RE: Hmm.
By borowki on 10/22/2007 8:09:36 PM , Rating: 2
It isn't so much the monetary value that deters, but the necessary paperwork--and thus, paper trail.

RE: Hmm.
By Christopher1 on 10/23/2007 7:17:59 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, it the paper trail, you are exactly right.

If there is a 'paper trail' where people can find out after a certain amount of time whether someone has wiretapped their internet, the government might be more..... hesitant to file for fradulent wiretaps.

RE: Hmm.
By RogueSpear on 10/22/07, Rating: 0
RE: Hmm.
By mdogs444 on 10/22/07, Rating: 0
RE: Hmm.
By Treckin on 10/22/2007 11:37:46 PM , Rating: 2

RE: Hmm.
By walk2k on 10/22/2007 7:28:29 PM , Rating: 2
If it costs Comcast money, damn straight they should charge the government for it. Maybe it will help discourage frivolous wiretaps at the same time.

I know if it was my company and the gov't came to me and said I had to do something which would cost me money or significantly put me out, the first thing out of my mouth would be "where do I send the bill"?

RE: Hmm.
By ebakke on 10/22/2007 7:50:37 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe it will help discourage frivolous wiretaps at the same time.

This comment assumes two false things: 1 - Wiretaps occur with frivolous disregard to personal privacy. 2 - The federal employees able to place this order give a damn about the collective budget being charged $1000.

RE: Hmm.
By PrezWeezy on 10/22/2007 7:39:44 PM , Rating: 2
Well I for one am totaly for this. Since the national budget is open to the public to view, the more money we see in wasted wire tapping or other things the government does to infringe on our civil rights, the more outraged we will be. Therefore it helps the the people keep the government in check.
Not to mention I think the government should be paying people when they require a service. Let's face it, Comcast has to put a lot of time into doing a wire tap, they deserve to be compensated.
In terms of National Budget, this isn't a large ammount of money. Our debt is in the trillions, that's a hell of a lot of money. This $10,000 isn't that much. And if it's producing results then great. If not it's going to be a way to make the feds pay attention to what they are doing. Besides, maybe the extra income will help them lower costs.

RE: Hmm.
By ebakke on 10/22/2007 7:53:01 PM , Rating: 1
the more money we see in wasted wire tapping

You're never going to see a line item for "Wiretaps ---- $XXXXXX".

Also, I'm glad you think all wiretapping is bad, and thus you can be outraged when you find that mystery number. Please don't run for office. Ever.

RE: Hmm.
By PrezWeezy on 10/22/2007 8:27:12 PM , Rating: 2
You're never going to see a line item for "Wiretaps ---- $XXXXXX".

Of course you wouldn't. But you would see a major flux in spending. That's where you would start doing investigations.

I never once in my post said anything about wiretapping being bad. But I don't think the government should willy-nilly start listening in on people's conversations. I think there needs to be a process, most strict than it is, that they have to go through to encroach. I happen to be for civil liberties. A smart person knows that they must give up some of them for security, but the extent of which is the question we fight over so much. And for your information I've toyed with the idea of running. Just because I have an idea that differs from your own and you blast me for it, proves that you are the one who isn't competent enough to hold an elected office.

RE: Hmm.
By Christopher1 on 10/23/2007 7:27:10 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, no, we don't have to give up some of them for security. When we give them up it is almost always for the APPEARANCE of security and not the actual security that we are looking for.

It is as Benjamin Franklin said "People who give up civil liberties for security are fools!" He didn't say it in quite that way, he was nicer about it, but that was the gist of his statement.

Right now, the 'liberties' we have given up are producing the APPEARANCE of security, without actually having that security. If we want to stop terrorists and other 'criminals', we are going to have to start telling children from BIRTH that there is never any good reason to kill another human being (no matter what they have done to someone else!) and legalize a lot of the things that we have made illegal (repeal drug laws, repeal all of our 'sexual morality' laws, etc.).

Then, people will have no reason to steal from other people, and we will finally have a perfect society, where people's personal choices are respected, regardless of what those personal choices are.

RE: Hmm.
By PrezWeezy on 10/23/2007 3:09:54 PM , Rating: 2
In a perfect world. And what he said was: "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security." From a purely hypothetical standpoint I would say that this is true. However, we don't live in such a world. Privacy is one thing I do think the government has come too far into our own lives with though.
Also, the lines have been blurred between what is classic liberalism and what is liberalism today. True classic liberals (today known as conservatives) would be outraged at laws governing marriage (homosexual or other), as well as any wiretap law. And yet it is the Republican group who is pushing for both. Liberals would normaly be handing over their liberties for these, and yet it is the Democrats who are so outspokenly oposed. And now we have begun to introduce the death penalty simply starting at wiretaps:

start telling children from BIRTH that there is never any good reason to kill another human being (no matter what they have done to someone else!)

This demonstrates the possibility of a slippery slope. This is why I like the idea of putting pressure on the government every single time they try to take away our rights. We don't want to stop them completely, but we want to show where the line is very clearly. Societies that are lulled into placation all end up the same way, with a tyranical government.

By Kanti on 10/22/2007 6:10:26 PM , Rating: 1
So much for the patriotism and national security argument, their one crutch in the lawsuits against them, since this was purely about profit (along with the deregulations they were promised). So they not only broke the law by engaging in wire taps with out court authorized warrants, but they also raped the tax payers at the same time.

This is just such a perfectly wrapped up argument against privatization. The government needs the ability to wiretap for national security purposes (as long as they abide by the law and get a warrant first) and some corporate crooks who own our public infrastructure get to dictate how much money they want to charge the government for the privilege of protecting them and their customers. Crap like this is why the national debt is so disgustingly high, the bush administration has been using tens of thousands of these wiretaps (maybe more, since most of them are illegally secret, and never went before FISA). All this would cost the taxpayers so much less if the public owned it's own infrastructure.

RE: So...
By ebakke on 10/22/07, Rating: -1
RE: So...
By Ringold on 10/22/2007 11:38:48 PM , Rating: 3
Lincoln often acted as if the constitution were voluntary.

Roosevelt admitted to his son he lied on the campaign trail -- and he flagrantly violated the constitution.

Every president since Roosevelt? Varying degrees of lies and likely illegality, though we'll not know much of it for decades to come.

Last time I checked Lincoln is a national hero, savior of the Union, face imprinted gloriously upon the side of an mountain and sitting like the big pimp he is in his granite temple of federal power at the Lincoln Memorial. Roosevelt is also widely regarded, possibly the current most popular president?

And what about Truman? His approval rating going out the door was comparable to President Bush's, and now he's regarded as a "minor great", whatever that means exactly. Nevermind the whole Korea deal and the fact we probably lost in a bad afternoon what we've lost in Iraq total. Oh, and that, too, was a civil war.

In the Roosevelt and Lincoln examples, Congress rubber-stamped what they had to given the circumstances of which they had to live with. Afterwords, with the power of hindsight, the Supreme Court and Congress struck down such war time provisions. Both had to trust that what they were doing was in the best long term interests of the nations and that the law, the people and ultimately history would thus judge them accordingly. (As it turns out, neither lived long enough to worry about any of it) Lincoln in particular had "copperheads" to deal with and critics saying much what you are saying. History has judged Lincoln's crimes and the verdict seems clear; I only know what a Copperhead is because I took Civil War & Reconstruction (and actually read the texts!). Most would say "Is that some type of snake?"

Bush will ultimately have judgement passed as well. The conflict hasn't diminished; it's merely out of the public eye (and therefore out of the public mind). Ideally, business will continue as it currently is, and when it's all over, if the free nation under God that Lincoln referred to is to avoid perishing from the Earth, a libertarian streak will roll back all of Bush's expansions of federal power. Once the vast majority of the people alive today are dead or in nursing homes, history will then pass as close to a neutral assesment of Bush and the outcomes as will be possible for centuries. Passing judgement now, though, seems to be rushing a little.. IMHO.

RE: So...
By masher2 on 10/23/2007 7:05:41 AM , Rating: 2
> "Crap like [wiretap charges] is why the national debt is so disgustingly high..."

Come sir, it behooves you to understand your government better than this. The vast majority of all government spending is in entitlement and wealth-redistribution programs, such as Welfare, SS, Medicare, Medicaid, etc -- about $900 billion worth each and every year.

RE: So...
By Christopher1 on 10/23/07, Rating: 0
RE: So...
By masher2 on 10/23/2007 7:41:25 AM , Rating: 2
> "Uh, sorry, but no. The biggest single expenditure that our government does is the military spending"

Why are people so misinformed about how the government spends their own money? Your statement is incorrect. Military spending is the largest expenditure in discretionary spending. But non-discretionary spending is by far the larger chunk of the budget.

For 2005, Defense spending was approximately $400B. But non-discretionary social services totalled $900B. Discretionary social services add close to another $100B onto that.

RE: So...
By mdogs444 on 10/23/2007 8:35:15 AM , Rating: 3
those programs are necessary in almost all cases and really need to be expanded, along with making a SEVERE minimum wage jump up to about 12 dollars an hour or more.


First, they do not need to be expanded because much of the programs deter people from actually working - hence the whole "redistribution of wealth", take from the rich, give to the poor. They get something for nothing, and in turn do nothing because there is no reason to.

Second, I hope you realize that by raising minimum wage to $12 is only going to increase prices of products due to people making more money. Its not going to give people more money while keep the market prices the same. This is a misconception of people wanting to increase their lifestyle, while everything else stays the same....which will NEVER happen.

Misleading headline
By masher2 on 10/23/2007 7:53:56 AM , Rating: 2
> "Bending the Fourth Amendment for fun and profit..."

Tom, I don't see the support for this statement in your article text. If anything, the actual facts as outlined by you contradict this statement, and show that Comcast is adhering to both the regulatory framework and the Constitution.

RE: Misleading headline
By Hase0 on 10/23/2007 11:07:42 AM , Rating: 2
Overall, the handbook reveals that Comcast is attempting to comply closely with the letter of the law, which contains strict rules regarding positive identification and due process.

If anything it confirms Comcast is doing what its suppose to be doing, but just charging money for it, which is fine because I'm sure its not free.

I couldn't really accuse them of making profit off of it if I don't know how much it really cost to setup and maintain a wiretap, which is why i find it so funny that a lot of people are saying "OMG tehy making $$ from wiretapping, oh nooesss!!!" when really they haven't the slightest idea how much money they are making if any, and aren't providing any proof that they do know how much.

RE: Misleading headline
By mdogs444 on 10/23/2007 11:44:13 AM , Rating: 2
I agree with you 100%.

I think most people on here are making the judgement that:

#1. Comcast = EVIL cable provider

#2. If the government is paying for something, then its overpaying ("as usual", so they say).

By laok on 10/23/2007 1:29:32 PM , Rating: 2
at the expense of the taxpayers.

who cares
By tastyratz on 10/22/07, Rating: 0
"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home
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