However, cable operators are also positioning themselves to tap into a secret revenue source, at least according to a leaked Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) document.
Earlier this month, the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy posted a copy of the Comcast Cable Law Enforcement Handbook.
The document outlines Comcast's policies for responding to law enforcement and legal requests for customer and service usage information. The Comcast document notes:
"The Legal Response Center does not charge for responses to legal process served by a government entity involving child exploitation. In all other situations, Comcast reserves the right to seek reimbursement for processing and responding to all legal process as permitted by law."
Indeed, the MSO has spelled out a pricey à la carte menu of options for law enforcement officials.
For its broadband Internet service, implementing a "Court Ordered Pen Register/Trap and Trace compliant/FISA requiring deployment of an intercept device" carries a "$1,000.00 initial start-up fee (including the first month of intercept service) and $750.00 per month for each subsequent month in which the original order or any extensions of the original order are active."
For inquiries relating to the MSO's telephone services, implementing a CALEA intercept request also carries a $1,000 start-up fee and continuing $750 monthly price.
Additionally, "Call Detail Record releases in response to ongoing Court Order" cost "$150.00 per week for once-per-week delivery of incoming and outgoing call detail records for the duration of the original order and any extensions of the original order. More frequent delivery of call detail records is an additional $50.00 per delivery."
A massive opportunity for the MSO was mounting thanks to the FBI's rampant use of National Security Letters, a method of collecting data without court orders or public disclosure. As The Washington Post reported earlier this year:
"Congress significantly lowered the threshold for the government to obtain such information after the 2001 terrorism attacks, producing what the FBI itself reported as at least a fivefold increase in annual requests. Its tally cited 39,000 requests in 2003, 56,000 in 2004 and 47,000 in 2005 -- involving a total of 24,937 "U.S. persons" (including citizens and green-card holders) and 27,262 foreigners in the United States. In 2004, nine letters alone requested telephone-subscriber information on 11,100 phone numbers.
The inspector general's report discloses, however, that these numbers understated the FBI's use of national security letters to collect data.
After checking 77 investigative case files at four FBI field offices, investigators found that those offices had "significantly" underreported the number of requests they had made and that, in this small subset alone, the real number was 22 percent higher."
Ka-ching! Alas, the FBI-driven gravy train is already pulling back into the station. In September, a federal court struck down the National Security Letter provisions of the Patriot Act, finding that they violate the First Amendment and the constitutional separation of powers among government branches.
So what customer information does Comcast have available for law enforcement's perusal? Customer names, account numbers, and addresses, of course. Additionally, for its Internet service, Comcast keeps IP address and email message records for 180 days. On the phone side, Comcast maintains two years of historical local and long distance call detail records.
Interested in learning more about cable wiretapping? Check out The Bauminator's recent report: CableLabs Specs Broadband Wiretaps.
— Michael Harris, Chief Analyst, Cable Digital News