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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
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Judge Lacks Power Over Claim Telecoms|Overcharge Government to Tap Phones

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) - A federal judge found no jurisdiction to determine whether AT&T and other telecommunications companies are overcharging for government wiretaps.

Under the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Agencies Act, AT&T, Verizon, Qwest, and Sprint Nextel were required to provide the government with electronic surveillance of their customers in exchange for only "reasonable expenses," according to complaint.

Former New York Deputy Attorney General John Prather claimed, however, that the companies "fraudulently overcharged 'the Federal government as well as various State and City governments' for electronic surveillance services" in violation of CALEA.

Prather claimed to have "observed eavesdropping charges increase tenfold after CALEA despite changes in technology that should have made it easier for Telecoms to provide wiretaps, and believed that the Telecoms were overcharging for wiretaps."

In 2004, Prather included his claims in an affidavit attached to the New York Attorney General's official comment to the Federal Communications Commission regarding CALEA, but the federal government allegedly took no action on the situation. As a result, Prather brought suit against the defendants for defrauding the government under the False Claims Act.

The FCA permits a private citizen to sue on behalf of the government if they are the "original source of the information" at issue and had disclosed the information to the government voluntarily prior to filing suit.

In their motion to dismiss, the telecoms argued that Prather was not "original source of the information" because he did not have firsthand knowledge of the alleged fraud and he failed to disclose the information voluntarily.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer threw out Prather's suit Monday.

Although Prather was involved in reviewing the "telecoms' fee schedules, occasionally reviewing invoices for wiretap provisioning, setting departmental investigation budgets, and participating in upgrades to his department's statewide eavesdropping network," Breyer found that his allegations were "little more than conjecture."

"Observing increased pricing over a twenty-year period does not equate to knowledge of fraud," the 13-page opinion states.

Judge Breyer also sided with the defendants and ruled Prather's disclosure of possible fraud was not in accordance with the FCA because he was required to report fraud as part of his job duties.

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