How Much Does It Cost To Follow You? (and Snowden, Obama)

If they want to follow you on foot and don’t care about being spotted, it costs an estimated average of $50/hr. If they want to avoid being spotted and use 5 people, it costs an average of $250/hr.

The prices for a following you in a car are a bit higher, at $105/hr and $275/hr respectively.

The cost of following you using your cell phone? As low as $0.04/hr, which is the $30 that Sprint charges for 28 days of tracking data. (T-Mobile and AT&T are significantly more expensive.)

Bringing in an IMSI catcher or “beeper” radio tracking device (not GPS) isn’t much cheaper than 5 person surveillance, at around $100/hr.

GPS trackers are about as cheap as tracking your phone.

Important caveat: all this is estimated by independent researchers, not based off in-practice data. (I suspect surveillance teams can be much larger and more expensive, for example.)

The lesson of Snowden? Neither corporations nor governments deserve our trust.

This seems important for the Americans reading this. Was Obama’s first job at a CIA front company?

“It’s no secret that the ability to track a cell phone has led to a sea change in law enforcement surveillance methods. But now a pair of researchers have actually put a number to the plummeting cost of that covert spying in the modern world: Tracking a cell phone’s location, they found, costs somewhere between 1.9% and .015 % of the price of tailing someone the old fashioned way.

In a paper published Thursday in the Yale Law Journal, privacy-focused researchers Ashkan Soltani and Kevin Bankston have calculated the per-hour cost to law enforcement of tracking a person’s location using every method from officers on foot to police-planted GPS devices to obtaining the suspect’s location from their cell carrier. The results show that the cost of 24/7 surveillance operations have been reduced from hundreds of dollars an hour to employ teams of agents to track individuals in shifts to just a few dollars or even just pennies to query AT&T or Sprint for the same location data.

A five-car “surveillance box” operation that has cars ready to inconspicuously tail a suspect in any direction–the standard procedure recommended in law enforcement manuals–costs $275 an hour, according to Soltani’s and Bankston’s estimate. Tracking the same suspect with a GPS device attached to his or her car costs as little as 36 cents an hour. The cost of tracking that individual’s cell phone varies depending on the phone’s cellular carrier–AT&T charges cops $5.21 an hour for short term tracking and $1.19 per hour for longer term operations, whereas T-Mobile charges $4.17 per hour and Sprint charges as little as 4 cents an hour.”

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