by Cade Metz
in San Francisco
18 November 2010
Microsoft does not charge for government
surveillance of its users, whereas Google charges $25 per user, according to
a US Drug Enforcement Admission document turned up by security and privacy
guru Christopher Soghoian.
With a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, Soghoian has exposed four
years of DEA spending on wiretaps and pen registers (below image).
A wiretap grabs actual telephone or Internet
conversations, whereas a pen register merely grabs numbers and addresses
that show who's doing the communicating.
In 2010, the document shows, the DEA paid ISPs, telcos, and other
communication providers $6.7 million for pen registers and $6.5 million for
wiretaps. Pen register payments more than tripled over the past three years
and nearly doubled over the past two. Wiretap payments stayed roughly the
The documents confirm that Microsoft does not charge for surveillance.
"There are no current costs for information
requested with subpoenas, search warrants, pen registers, or Title II
collection [wiretaps] for Microsoft Corporation," they say.
But they show that Google charges $25 and Yahoo!
As Soghoain points out, Google and Yahoo! may make more money from
surveillance than they get directly from their email users. Basic Google and
Yahoo! email accounts are free.
Department of Justice
documents show that telcos may charge as
much as $2,000 for a pen register.
On the one hand, Microsoft could be commended for choosing not to make a
single penny from government surveillance.
But on the other, Soghoian says, the company
should at least charge that penny, as that would create a paper trail.
"You don't like companies to make money
spying on their customers, they should charge something," Soghoian tells
us. "You can't FOIA Microsoft's invoices, because they don't send any
wiretap orders in the US involve narcotics
cases, so DEA spending likely accounts for a majority of wiretap spending.