Upon lawful request and for a thousand dollars, Comcast, one of the nation’s leading telecommunications companies, will intercept its customers’ communications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The cost for performing any FISA surveillance “requiring deployment of an intercept device” is $1,000.00 for the “initial start-up fee (including the first month of intercept service),” according to a newly disclosed Comcast Handbook for Law Enforcement (pdf).
Thereafter, the surveillance fee goes down to “$750.00 per month for each subsequent month in which the original [FISA] order or any extensions of the original order are active.”
With respect to surveillance policy, the Comcast manual hews closely to the letter of the law, as one would hope and expect.
“If your [FISA intercept] request pertains to individuals outside the U.S., please be sure you have complied with all the requirements in 50 U.S.C. sections 105A and/or 105B,” the manual says, referring to provisions of the Protect America Act that was enacted last month. “Requests such as these can not be honored after one year and must be dated prior to February 5, 2008, unless extended by Congress.”
Comcast will also comply with disclosure demands presented in the form of National Security Letters. However, the manual says, “Attention must be paid to the various court proceedings in which the legal status of such requests is at issue.”
In short, “Comcast will assist law enforcement agencies in their investigations while protecting subscriber privacy as required by law and applicable privacy policies.”
At the same time, “Comcast reserves the right to respond or object to, or seek clarification of, any legal requests and treat legal requests for subscriber information in any manner consistent with applicable law.”
A copy of the manual was obtained by Secrecy News. See “Comcast Cable Law Enforcement Handbook,” September 2007.
The role of telecommunications companies in intelligence surveillance is under increased scrutiny as the Bush Administration seeks to shield the companies from any liability associated with their cooperation in what may be illegal warrantless surveillance.
Also, there are new indications that the unauthorized warrantless surveillance program pre-dated 9/11. The Rocky Mountain News, the Washington Post, and others reported allegations that the government may have penalized Qwest Communications for refusing to participate in a pre-9/11 National Security Agency surveillance program that the company believed might be illegal.
The Washington Post editorialized yesterday that the telecommunications companies should indeed be immunized against liability, as the Bush Administration desires. Even though it is not known exactly what the companies did, the Post said, they “seem to us to have been acting as patriotic corporate citizens in a difficult and uncharted environment.”
Writing in Salon.com, Glenn Greenwald disputed that view, arguing that patriotism lies in compliance with the law, not in mere obedience to executive authority.