The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Sprint Monday for allegedly overcharging the federal government to tap customers’ phones for law enforcement and national security surveillance.
According to the suit filed in the San Francisco U.S. District Court, Sprint secretly overcharged the government by $21 million to pay for its own equipment upgrades between January 2007 and July 2010. Carriers are already eligible for reimbursement when ordered to execute wiretaps for the government.
The law laying out the terms of such a reimbursement only covers pre-1995 equipment, and in 2006 the FCC forbid carriers from charging the government for upgrades from 1995-on.
“As alleged, Sprint overbilled law enforcement agencies for carrying out court-ordered intercepts, causing a significant loss to the government’s limited resources,” U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said, according to a Phone Arena report.
The suit aims for a return of the extra amount charged to agencies including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Secret Service and U.S. Marshal’s Service for Sprint’s equipment upgrades, along with additional penalty charges.
Sprint responded to the suit by defending its billing practices as legally compliant. The nation’s third-largest carrier already altered its billing policy to the government in 2010.