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Cellphones The Almighty Buck News

Verizon Tells Cops "Your Money Or Your Life" 593

Posted by Soulskill
from the pay-it-forward dept.
Mike writes "A 62-year-old man had a mental breakdown and ran off after grabbing several bottles of pills from his house. The cops asked Verizon to help trace the man using his cellphone, but Verizon refused, saying that they couldn't turn on his phone because he had an unpaid bill for $20. After an 11-hour search (during which time the sheriff's department was trying to figure out how to pay the bill), the man was found, unconscious. 'I was more concerned for the person's life,' Sheriff Dale Williams said. 'It would have been nice if Verizon would have turned on his phone for five or 10 minutes, just long enough to try and find the guy. But they would only turn it on if we agreed to pay $20 of the unpaid bill.' Score another win for the Verizon Customer Service team."
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Verizon Tells Cops "Your Money Or Your Life"

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  • Simple solution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Shadow of Eternity (795165) on Friday May 22, 2009 @07:26PM (#28060655)

    Any time something like this happens everyone from the first manager with the authority to do something that refuses all the way up the chain gets held responsible for whatever happens as a result of their refusal to act.

    Guy dies, they get held responsible for murder because they chose to not assist the police knowing full well that their actions would cause the death of another human being.

    Never going to happen.

    • Not murder (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MrEricSir (398214) on Friday May 22, 2009 @07:37PM (#28060803) Homepage

      But manslaughter.

      Thing is, how do you punish a corporation for manslaughter? Remember, a corporation is a "legal person" so you can't punish an employee for obeying the will of the company.

      • Re:Not murder (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 22, 2009 @07:45PM (#28060867)

        Corporate death penalty: revocation of corporate charter, seizure of all corporate assets.

        Probably a bit too stiff for this instance, but if a company shows a repeated "screw the community" ethic, why should the community suffer its continued existence?

        The major problem I have is as little as I trust large companies, I trust the government to not abuse such a power even less.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by davidphogan74 (623610)
          I was considering switching to Sprint next month when my contract with Verizon is up. This pretty well seals it.
          • Re:Not murder (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Bob_Who (926234) <Bob@[ ].net ['who' in gap]> on Saturday May 23, 2009 @03:16AM (#28064413) Homepage Journal
            I went from Verizon to Sprint. Now I hate them both and will never do business with them again. Like AT&T, Comcast, and the rest of the monopolies I have to deal with because extortion is their marketing strategy. So now I have NO CELL PHONE at all.

              I sure showed them!!

            Now I feel like I'm Amish and should ride a horse and buggy to my next job interview....jeez, sorry...I only have one phone #, and its always ringing in the same place, all alone in a room without me. Like a Cave Man.

            The good news is I don't have to screen my messages anymore, I don't have to pay for minutes that you already paid for five times, and my sperm count is rising.... the brain tumor has gone away.... and I can drive a car without crashing.

            Can you hear me now? Nope. I'm all alone. And Sprint and Verizon and Metro and AT&T can just KMA and sell someone else their overpriced electrons and imaginary minutes.... But not me!!.... Not in my cave!!.... Not in the previous century, not at that price... I'd rather talk to people I can see. I may be a dinosaur, but I wasn't born.... recently!.

            Just say no to cellular phone companies.
        • Re:Not murder (Score:5, Insightful)

          by sjames (1099) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:02PM (#28061613) Homepage

          Forced operation as a non-profit for the duration of the sentence?

          The major problem I have is as little as I trust large companies, I trust the government to not abuse such a power even less.

          If government is trusted to hand out the actual death penalty to living human beings defended by draftee lawyers, why not to large corporations that are surely better represented?

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by centuren (106470)

            If government is trusted to hand out the actual death penalty to living human beings defended by draftee lawyers, why not to large corporations that are surely better represented?

            I might be wrong, but it's my understanding that the death penalty can not be invoked without it's use first being approved by a jury of peers. That is to say, the government is expressly not trusted to hand it out.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by pclminion (145572)

          Seizure of all assets? And if the company is, say, 50% owned by public shareholders, you'll just screw the public by taking their money? I guess you're willing to steal money from peoples' retirement funds.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Pentagram (40862)

            Yes, at least in principle. If you're going to own part of a corporation, you should be to at least some degree responsible for its actions. Why not? Who else is going to be?

      • by BSAtHome (455370)

        how do you punish a corporation for manslaughter?

        Well, you put it in jail? The new land across the pond has outsourced many of the jails already, why not converting the company into a new jail? As a cellular operator, they already put their customers in a contractual jail. Shouldn't be too hard to declare the company a legal jail by itself.

      • by Tokerat (150341) on Friday May 22, 2009 @07:49PM (#28060915) Journal

        Fines. Very large fines. Verizon sounds here like they would have complied with the request had the bill been paid. Hell, if I was a Verizon tech and I knew the request was legitimate, I'd have paid the damn $20 to get the system to activate the phone, if that's what it took.

        Verizon should have to forfeit to the government all profit their shareholders would have received in dividends or share increases for 3 months. We'll see if they ever pull this shit again. Someone's fucking life was at stake! Who cares if the guy was crazy, or an asshole, of owed them money - dead men can't pay bills! Help your customer survive to outlive that service contract, if for no better reason such as, you know, saving someone's life! Fucking idiots.

        I don't understand this unwritten law that telcos must all act like they have some kind of mental handicap.

        • by taniwha (70410)
          Immediate chapter 7 with the government first in line for any payouts (ahead of shareholders, who should be taking part in the risk if they own part of something who commits murder/manslaughter)
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by pcolaman (1208838)
            Bankruptcy is a legitimate tool used to emerge from a position of financial ruin and recover in an attempt to continue to be able to do business. It is not a tool used for punishment, and what you suggest is not only wrong, it's illegal and unconstitutional. If the government tried that bullshit, I would hope that Verizon would sue the shit out of them, and I'm sure they would win.
        • by Entropius (188861) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:10PM (#28061089)

          Right now many of these companies have been granted a public monopoly on RF spectrum. The public had better be getting something in return for this; as soon as we're not, as soon as it's no longer in the public interest to grant exclusive license to broadcast on a given frequency to Verizon, that license ought to go away.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Shakrai (717556)

            Right now many of these companies have been granted a public monopoly on RF spectrum

            Umm, they weren't "granted" it, they paid billions of dollars for it......

          • by Tisha_AH (600987) <Tisha.Hayes@gmail.com> on Friday May 22, 2009 @11:25PM (#28062827) Journal

            They are regulated by the FCC and clearly their lack of cooperation in finding this guy was not in the public interest. The fine print in the Code of Federal regulations does require licensees to cooperate in a legitimate emergency.

            It sounds like their customer service people were more concerned about the little red box on a computer screen than in helping the sheriff. The article does not go into enough detail on if an escalation procedure was requested for or offered. No matter what time of the day it is, there is always someone available with enough authority to turn the service on temporarily. It is not as if the sheriff was asking for a service restoration so the guy could make a five hour cell call to Bangladesh.

            Verizon should be burned for how they handled this. Maybe someone needs to make a stink with their elected officials or to file a formal complaint with the FCC.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ImYourVirus (1443523)
          Not only his life was at stake, but god forbid what if he had killed someone else? What then? This kind of bull should not be tolerated, at all, the police made a simple request to turn on said dudes phone because he could be a hazard to himself (or someone else) so what if dude 'owes' them $20 bucks, it's not going to break their system to turn on his phone for 5 or 10 mins so they can find him, instead 11 fucking hours were wasted, thats rediculous. What do they make in profit a year, $20 bucks is nothing
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by centuren (106470)

            Not only his life was at stake, but god forbid what if he had killed someone else? What then? This kind of bull should not be tolerated, at all, the police made a simple request to turn on said dudes phone because he could be a hazard to himself (or someone else) so what if dude 'owes' them $20 bucks, it's not going to break their system to turn on his phone for 5 or 10 mins so they can find him, instead 11 fucking hours were wasted, thats rediculous. What do they make in profit a year, $20 bucks is nothing, I could spend that doing just about anything, what I'm saying is that's a drop in the bucket for me, to them that's nothing, it costs them nothing to help out the sheriffs office, hell it even helps them, tax dollars at work right there, how many man hours of work were wasted because of them, they should have to reimburse the office for all that time, what a fucking waste.

            Judges can be contacted at any time of the day to authorise a warrant. If it's a matter as important as life and death, the responsibility for efficient process lies on the police and legal system whose job it is to handle emergency situations. Right or wrong, it's not currently the duty of a corporation to provide bureaucratic clauses to cover every instance where police procedures fail.

        • by SkyDude (919251) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:56PM (#28061541)
          Nowhere in TFA does it indicate there is any law, rule or regulation requiring Verizon or any cell carrier to activate a delinquent account. Can there be an agreement that this may be a unique situation that has possibly not occurred before?

          What about the customer service rep - is s/he really heartless or just following company rules to prevent losing his/her job? How many times have we heard stories of 911 operators ignoring calls for help? Being unthinking is not limited to employees of major businesses.

          The last thing I'm going to do is defend a giant corporation, but before the nuclear bombers are called in for an air strike, let's all take a breath. I think the situation is just so unique, there is no procedure for the police to reach the right person to override problems like this. If this were a landline, there are certainly contact people who can be reached to assist with a police investigation.

          Cell phone technology is still new, and the capabilities are still being learned. The cell carriers, who many believe should be regulated, must make an effort to prevent situations like this from happening. If events like this happen on a regular basis, the carriers will find themselves heavily regulated, and that will serve no one well. As more and more people eschew landlines in favor of cellular service, carriers need to be proactive in making sure they are ready to help and prevent corporate policies from benefiting the communities they serve.
          • by twidarkling (1537077) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:15PM (#28061721)

            I'm going to try very hard not to flame you here, because you're trying to be the voice of reason.

            But you're talking bullshit. It doesn't matter if it's never happened before. There's a first time for everything. They could have set a precedent. As for "not being able to." That's what the managers are there for. There is no way on this planet that there wasn't someone higher up the chain to talk to for 11 hours. And those managers routinely waive overages on minutes, or reconnect fees, or shipping charges on new handsets, and give out hundreds in freebies every day to keep customers "happy." If the manager couldn't pull his head out of his ass to waive $20 to try and help save a life, the company doesn't deserve its customer-base. They wouldn't even have needed to waive it. Just send a temporary reconnect.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            Cell phone technology is still new, and the capabilities are still being learned.

            This is true, and cell providers still haven't standardized even by region, let alone provider, how to send caller information to 911 dispatch stations. Every time a client of mine decides to deploy PhaseII at their center, programming has to come up with a new workaround for whatever weird quirk their local providers have with their service.

            On the other hand, getting specifications and parameters from the telcos is like pulling teeth, even when it's for 911 call centers, so 3/4's of the time we end up h

          • by jhfry (829244) on Friday May 22, 2009 @10:48PM (#28062495)

            think the situation is just so unique, there is no procedure for the police to reach the right person to override problems like this. If this were a landline, there are certainly contact people who can be reached to assist with a police investigation.

            Exactly the problem, they were dealing with someone who isn't empowered to help.

            What all major carriers need to do is create an "emergency services" department that is empowered by executive management to make decisions that run contrary to company policy when it makes sense to do so. Then they give that number to all call center staff who will forward calls like this immediately when they realize that they cannot help.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Orbijx (1208864) *

            The situation is not as unique as you'd like.

            In my two years where I am (I'm a phone jockey for a certain company left unnamed), I've had numerous policemen call in, requesting information "on a stolen computer".

            I really cannot give them the information, however, because anyone can call in and say "I am the police. Give me information about _____."

            Ideally, the Verizon rep should have known the proper escalation path to get the officers to someone who CAN turn on the phone for law enforcement purposes, be it

          • by BriggsBU (1138021) on Saturday May 23, 2009 @12:35AM (#28063387)
            Allow me to preface my comments here by saying I've worked for Verizon Wireless customer service.

            Now that that's out of the way, Verizon Wireless DOES have policies outlined in their "Methods and Procedures" (documents telling agents what to do in X situation) for this circumstance. In fact, when an agent receives a call from someone stating they are a police officer that agent is required to immediately transfer the call (cold transfer, IE: agent transfers and doesn't introduce the officer to the other line) to a special department that is under VZW's legal department (same speed dial number). I've actually had a call similar to this. I don't know if the account was suspended for non-payment, but I received a call from a police officer needing to locate an individual that had been reported missing.

            I warm transferred the call (I was honestly nervous as hell because I knew someone's life could be in danger). Instead of just transferring the call, I stayed on the line until I got the agent from that department on the line.

            According to the M&Ps, those agents are supposed to do ANYTHING to assist the police in locating a missing person. If that means reconnecting the line, they are supposed to do that.

            What this sounds like is that the agent who received the call didn't know that they were supposed to transfer the call to that specialty team and instead tried to handle it themselves. That agent will probably be out of a job very shortly.

            So no, this wasn't something that happened because of a corporate policy, this is something that happened because the agent who received the call didn't know what to do and didn't properly follow the corporate policy.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by ScrewMaster (602015) *

          I don't understand this unwritten law that telcos must all act like they have some kind of mental handicap.

          I guess sociopathy can be considered a handicap.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        But manslaughter.

        you can't punish an employee for obeying the will of the company.

        Why not? In this case the will of the company clearly ran contrary to public interest. I would argue that the employee had a clear responsibility to ignore corporate policy and if he got in trouble for it he should be protected and the company levied a rather hefty fine. I think one persons life is worth say... 2% of profit for five years.

        Assign one or two of these fines and companies will shape up fast.

        It's also possible by ignoring the officers request the employee committed a crime. Obstruction of justic

        • Re:Not murder (Score:5, Insightful)

          by mdwh2 (535323) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:34PM (#28061311) Journal

          It's also possible by ignoring the officers request the employee committed a crime. Obstruction of justice comes to mind, depraved indifference perhaps, though I am sure there are others.

          Not obeying an officer's request, when they don't have a warrant or otherwise legal right to that information, should be a crime? I hope not.

          We can debate whether it was a good thing or not in this particular case all we like, but I would be very worried of the precedent of making it illegal to not do as a policemen says. Suddenly everyone who tries to refuse access to the police would be breaking the law, even if the police had no authority to get that information!

          • Re:Not murder (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:41PM (#28061403)
            I agree. On the other hand, what was stopping them from taking a $20 payment from someone else? Do they have a policy against that for some unknown reason? I can't pay your bill?

            I bet that at some point during those 11 hours, somebody offered to pay the $20. Why didn't they take it?
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by arth1 (260657)

            Not obeying an officer's request, when they don't have a warrant or otherwise legal right to that information, should be a crime? I hope not.

            I hope the hell it is. In another country I lived in, it sure was a felony to hinder or refuse aid in emergencies. It would be considered abandonment with death as a result, and would carry the same sentence as manslaughter.
            Here in the US, it appears to be the other way around -- don't try to help anyone, because you risk being sued for doing so.

            Still, when a police

        • by greenreaper (205818) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:40PM (#28061395) Homepage Journal
          You are assuming it was in the public interest to find the person before they died. This is a guy who didn't pay his phone bill. Sounds like a loser to me.
      • Re:Not murder (Score:5, Insightful)

        by houstonbofh (602064) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:09PM (#28061079)

        But manslaughter.

        Thing is, how do you punish a corporation for manslaughter? Remember, a corporation is a "legal person" so you can't punish an employee for obeying the will of the company.

        Oh yes you can. Look at the Enron folks. You have a legal duty to refuse an illegal request. If they fire you for obeying a police request, you will have a line of ambulance chasers waiting to "help" you.

        • Re:Not murder (Score:4, Insightful)

          by mdwh2 (535323) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:36PM (#28061343) Journal

          You have a legal duty to refuse an illegal request.

          Wait - without a warrant, which is the illegal request?

          (Whether it might have ethically been a good thing to comply or not is beside the point, if we're talking about the legality of requests.)

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by 644bd346996 (1012333)

            Cooperating with the police is never illegal (if it was, that would be entrapment). Without a court order or warrant, it is seldom illegal to not comply, either. However, many jurisdictions have Good Samaritan laws that protect those who choose to help, and in some places, provide for penalties for those who refuse to help. It wouldn't be a stretch for a company or it's employees to be held to those laws. One would also have expected the corporation to have tried to minimize exposure to lawsuits, and wrongf

          • by schmiddy (599730) on Friday May 22, 2009 @10:17PM (#28062143) Homepage Journal

            Wait - without a warrant, which is the illegal request?

            See e.g. Searches And Seizures FAQ (PDF) [jamessansonelaw.com]. The police don't need a warrant if they have a reasonable fear that their safety, or that of the public, is in imminent danger. This case seems to be a cut and dried emergency case. Now, whether the Verizon operator had a legal duty (moral duty is obvious) to comply with the police's emergency request.. I imagine the operator, or Verizon itself, could be charged with Obstruction of Justice [wikipedia.org].

      • by qbzzt (11136) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:15PM (#28061135)

        Remember, a corporation is a "legal person" so you can't punish an employee for obeying the will of the company.

        No. The corporation's status as a legal person protects share holders. It does not protect employees of the corporation. If I charter the "Mafia Collection Agency" corporation and hire assassins, they can still be punished for murder.

        In this particular case, an employee that receives the request from law enforcement has three possible actions:

        1. Help, turn the phone on.
        2. Ignore or delay the request.
        3. Escalate to a supervisor.

        #1 may or may not be possible to a customer support representative. #3 is an acceptable action.

        The highest level that got a documented request and ignored it should be criminally liable. After a few mid level managers go to jail, nobody would be willing to ignore this type of request. Managers would make sure the CYA and send this up the chain until it got to somebody with common sense.

      • Re:Not murder (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Skuld-Chan (302449) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:31PM (#28061269)

        I've never worked at a place in the US doing tech support or customer service where we couldn't make simple exception (not even needing manager approval). Turn the guys phone on for a day and put a note in there that officer so and so from the police department needed help finding him because he was suicidal - no-one should get fired for that.

        That's actually the big problem with handing off all our support and customer service to India - having trained them, working with them etc (and even training my replacement) - if its not on the flow chart card they have no way of helping you.

      • Re:Not murder (Score:5, Interesting)

        by _KiTA_ (241027) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:33PM (#28061855) Homepage

        But manslaughter.

        Thing is, how do you punish a corporation for manslaughter? Remember, a corporation is a "legal person" so you can't punish an employee for obeying the will of the company.

        Rescind their business licences and enjoin the upper management from forming or working in another corporation for X years, where X is the years a normal person would be in jail.

        Or better yet, rescind corporate personhood, it was a stupid idea then and it's a stupid idea now.

    • Terms of service (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Narcocide (102829)

      I'm sure the terms of service clearly state that if you haven't paid your bill you can't get phone access even to save your life.

    • Re:Simple solution (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:54PM (#28061969)

      You should not be so blindly anti-corporate. I'm as anti-corporate as anybody, but in this case Verizon did the right thing. The 62 year old, crazy and suicidal as he was, had commited no crime and did not represent a threat to society at large. He had every right to grab a bottle of pills and run off, just like his family had every right to attempt to chase him down and calm him down before he does something foolish.

      Enlisting the help of the police to find a missing person is fine, and a good use of public services.

      Forcing a phone company to track down a customer (breaching contract or no) just because the police said so? Hell no. You don't want ISPs giving up personal information just because the RIAA subpoena it, well this has even LESS legal standing than that.

      Honestly, had Verizon activated his phone and tracked him down, the crazy man would be in the right to sue the pants off Verizon, and he could probably win.

      And you people are talking about sanctioning Verizon for protecting the man's privacy? Granted, it was definitely not for altruistic reasons, but frankly I don't want the police to ever have the right to call up the phone company and have them track me down without a warrant for my arrest (not that I should ever be under suspicion, but you never know).

      And while you're attacking the phone company for not budging on the phone deactivation for a mear $20, bear in mind that neither the police nor the family was apparently willing to cough up the $20 to have the account unlocked.

      Seems to me that the worst you can say about Verizon here is that they suck as much as everybody else involved. Maybe if this guy's family wasn't harassing him he wouldn't have lost it, you never know.

    • by antirelic (1030688) on Friday May 22, 2009 @10:42PM (#28062423) Journal
      How on earth would the Verizon employee know that its really a cop calling? How would the Verizon employee know that the guy is really in trouble? Verizon is a "business" that has to protect itself from all sorts of predators, government employees/agents included. How did the Verizon employee know that the cop wasnt just asking to turn on the cell phone to track someone for other than "emergency" purposes? That could make Verizon liable as an accomplice for an illegal search and siezure. Let me guess, what if the cop called, said it was an emergency (life and death) and they turned the phone on, only to find out that the cop was just using Verizon to aide in some sort of surviellance operation? I'm sure there would be all sorts of whiney little socialists pounding at the keyboards saying, "there they go again, spying on us! Tin foil hats! Tin foil hats! Evil corpratations!" I know, how about we FINE every retard on slashdot who "demands" "social justice" for "evil corporation" that doesnt jump at every knee jerk populist sounding situation.
  • NSA (Score:5, Funny)

    by Concerned Onlooker (473481) on Friday May 22, 2009 @07:26PM (#28060659) Homepage Journal
    The cops should have just told Verizon they were the NSA. Verizon would have given them anything.
  • What about E911? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Friday May 22, 2009 @07:26PM (#28060661)

    Don't even contractless cell phones have to support calling 911?
    If so, doesn't that mean they are always talking to nearby tower(s) just as much as any other cell phone and thus just as easily trackable?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Of course, if his account was disconnected due to non-payment, he likely didn't even have his phone with him.

  • Idiot Police imho (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Aranykai (1053846) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `resnogls'> on Friday May 22, 2009 @07:27PM (#28060669)

    "After some disagreement, Williams agreed to pay $20 on the phone bill in order to find the man. But deputies discovered the man just as Williams was preparing to make arrangements for the payment."

    Why did it take the police 11 hours to decide to pay the $20 dollar bill? If someones life was likely at stake, $20 out of my own pocket is a pretty small price to pay to locate him.

  • Unless someone dies or is in physical danger.

  • Lets see, Verizon decided to not allow law enforcement to TRACK a customer. That is a GOOD THING.

    It's a cell phone, not an invasion of privacy device used on a whim by any police officer at will.

    • by Sta7ic (819090) on Friday May 22, 2009 @07:33PM (#28060753)
      Though they did support the guy's privacy, it was inadvertent. If you RTFA, there were two K-9 units, several fire departments and 100 individuals on foot looking for the guy after the police were called by a neighbor. They weren't concerned about the guy's privacy, they were concerned about the guy's unpaid debts.
    • by svvampy (576225)
      This situation highlights the gap between technology and policy. My guess is, that if things don't get completely ignored after this news item falls from focus, then whatever policy changes are implemented will be ponderous and draconian and will not prevent this scenario from recurring.
    • Except... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by IANAAC (692242)
      Privacy had nothing to do with it.

      This was Verizon asking for payment for a late bill, nothing more, nothing less.

    • Ha ha, you're trolling right?

      Those damn firefighters are always breaking down doors too. They should all go to jail unless they get permission first.

      If the police find any evidence by tracking/searching/whatever without a warrant then that evidence shouldn't be admissible in court. Suggesting that the police shouldn't have access to easy and available means like tracking cell phones to find genuinely missing persons is pretty stupid.

      BTW - Verizon was perfectly willing to give up the location in return for

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by PPH (736903)

        BTW - Verizon was perfectly willing to give up the location in return for $20.

        Reminds me of the old punch line: "We've established what you are. We're just haggling over the price."

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Khyber (864651)

        "BTW - Verizon was perfectly willing to give up the location in return for $20."

        Hey officer. I've got the information you need right here. You want it? You pay me for it.

        extortion, much?

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by ceoyoyo (59147)

          They are a cell phone company.

          Usually they confine themselves to extorting regular citizens, but it was only a matter of time until they started working their way up.

    • by The Breeze (140484) on Friday May 22, 2009 @07:50PM (#28060917) Homepage

      You're kidding, right?

      a. Verizon didn't decide not to help the police due to some great respect for civil liberties.
      They wanted money. Period. They made it clear, apparently, that as soon as the cops coughed up the $$$, they would get the info. Why are you applauding Verizon?

      b. Police have broad powers when a life is threatened. Very broad. They need a search warrant to go into my house. However, if they hear a scream and a gunshot, they don't need anything other than the soles of their feet as they cheerfully kick in my door and swarm in. They are safeguards against abuse of this power. Although it happens, judges frown when officers are caught abusing it and tend to toss any illegally gathered evidence out the window. Several companies have a policy of following emergency requests with paperwork stating what was done and why. It's highly likely that if the cops were making stuff up in an excuse to scam information out of Verizon it would have come back to bite them.

      No, sometimes the simplest explanation is the right one. Verizon just sucks.

  • by Tihstae (86842) <Tihstae@gmail.com> on Friday May 22, 2009 @07:31PM (#28060725) Homepage

    Where was this Verizon when the warrantless wiretaps were going on? They are a business, they have no obligation to help with police work. It may have been nice but it is not necessary.

    I wish Verizon had grown these balls much earlier.

  • E911 Service? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PPH (736903) on Friday May 22, 2009 @07:37PM (#28060797)

    Whatever happened to the requirement to provide 911 service to any phone, paid up or not?

    Back in the old analog days, the network operators were required to connect any calls to 911, whether the phone had a current account or not. Even after letting my Motorola brick's account lapse, I kept it in the glove compartment for just such an emergency, since analog service has much greater range (and coverage area) than digital (until they turned it off). If this requirement is still in effect, an unpaid phone would still check in with the nearest cell when entering its coverage area and could be tracked. Even if it was blocked from placing or receiving calls. That would seem to be a minimum requirement to support the E911 requirement. Unless the networks have managed to weasel out of yet another law, that is.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by justinlee37 (993373)
      You calling 911 and 911 calling you are two different things. The law probably doesn't cover the latter.
  • by petrus4 (213815) on Friday May 22, 2009 @07:37PM (#28060801) Homepage Journal

    ...when we as a species will have to choose between whether we want to allow any and all life on this planet to survive, or whether we want to allow the corporation to survive.

    The survival of Man and the corporation are mutually exclusive. In order for one to survive, the other must eventually die.

  • Bully for the cops! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by furry_marmot (515771) on Friday May 22, 2009 @07:38PM (#28060809) Homepage

    'I was more concerned for the person's life,' Sheriff Dale Williams said.

    Bully for the cops, for a change! The guys who are supposed to protect and serve, who get such a bad rap in recent years, were trying to figure out how to pay a bill for a guy who was trying to off himself. Goddamit but that makes me feel good.

  • In the US, there are laws that require cell phone networks to allow people to make 911 calls from their phones even if their accounts are expired, or even if the phone has no SIM card at all. Perhaps there needs to be a similar, inverse law requiring that emergency responders be able to track someone's phone in an emergency regardless of the state of their contract/account. Of course, there are some foreseeable privacy implications, and I'm not sure I would want the cops to be able to know where I am any ti
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pcolaman (1208838)
      I have a question for you. If there is no sim card in the phone, how do they know what phone to track?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    It was actually .002 cents he owed them.

  • Stupid. This has nothing to do with "greed". It's obviously a bad PR move from Verizon, it will cost them. They do not care that much about an unpaid $20 bill.

    This story is about how large centralized organization become bureaucratic and fail to act efficiently.

    Now the sad part is that the people who are the quickest to talk about "greed" are also the one who will want the government (n.b. a large centralized bureaucratic institution) to step in and prevent "greediness"

    • by Trepidity (597)

      What's the alternate solution? Yes, all large centralized organizations are bad. But I generally find that private-sector ones are the worst.

    • Re:Greed tag (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Renraku (518261) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:03PM (#28061023) Homepage

      You know, anyone past the first tier support person should have seen this as an opportunity for some good publicity. They could have issued a press release saying that they turned the guy's phone back on so the police could save him. Then they could have advertised how having their service helps keep people safe. Etc. Etc.

      But they didn't.

      I don't know what's a worse. Not turning the phone on or running your company so poorly that no one ever thinks of alternative solutions or thinks more than five minutes ahead.

      Enjoy your bad publicity, Verizon. You've earned it.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Friday May 22, 2009 @08:22PM (#28061201)

    Here's a classic example of strict and rigid rules laid down without any sensible leeway, and how it backfires. A lot of companies actually have a "bible" with the correct procedure for every standard situation. ISO 9001 and other similar standards actually support this behaviour.

    I can well imagine how this happened. First, there is some flowchart that dictates how and when who may turn what phone on and off under what circumstances. My guess is that some relevant part reads something like "do not turn phone on unless bill is paid". Furthermore the "executing" levels of the company (i.e. the grunts doing the work who are disallowed to think for themselves) most likely got directives to stick to the rules by the letter or face consequences (i.e. start sending out resumes, you have 2 weeks).

    I pity only the poor guy who actually had to decline the request. Because he had the choice between shooting himself and finding a beam strong enough to handle his weight plus rope. If he activated the phone, he would have broken the all sacred and holy document telling him how to do his job and be fired. Now, he didn't and sure enough he'll be made the scapegoat for the blunder of a manager who created the rules without thinking of emergencies like this.

  • by mmalove (919245) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:30PM (#28061827)

    This makes no sense. Why not pay the 20 bucks for an instant find, instead of what was clearly more than 20 bucks for several police officers to meandor about trying to find him?

    Not sure how I feel about Verizon on this one - it's no less reasonable to expect police to pay for an account to turn it on than if the police had come in and requested a phone for themselves. But the police themselves in this case were idiots.

  • by atarione (601740) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:32PM (#28061837)

    TFA doesn't state if the police followed proper law enforcment req protocol

    for example if they where smart enough to google

    verizon wireless law enforcement requests

    and read the 800 number that is in the very first result (I won't post the number as it is law enforcement only)

    but blah blah blah

    (press "1" for general information, press "2" for subpoenas, press "3" for court orders and press "4" for EXIGENT situations)

    I assume they want 4 =p or a court order barring success w/ an EXIGENT situation request.

  • by space_hippy (625619) on Friday May 22, 2009 @09:32PM (#28061849)

    Or Sheriff Dale Williams got in a huff because the damn civilians didn't lay down and do what they are told. I'm sure the 20 dollar story that the sheriff told is the absolute truth and nothing but the truth..... right.

    11 hours and they couldn't find a judge to issue a warrant.

    Personally I'm glad Verizon refused to track the phone without a warrant regardless of the expressed reason. I don't think we have all the information, and I doubt the parties involved will ever release the documented facts.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Friday May 22, 2009 @11:02PM (#28062621) Journal

    Neither you nor the power company, for instance, are required to give free power to oldsters who will freeze to death in the winter or die of heatstroke in the summer absent heating and air conditioning. You and they aren't even required to give free power to somebody in an iron lung. As a public utility the power company IS required to give them power, even reduced rate power, WHEN arrangements are made to pay appropriately for it. This stuff has come up over and over again.

    Similarly with the phone company.

    Cops said: "Turn the phone on so we can find him."

    Phone company said "Sure. We'll do it for $20 - much less than his outstanding balance - as soon as you tell where to send the bill."

    Cops said: "We won't pay."

    Family said: "We won't pay."

    Phone company said: "Call us when you figure out where to send the bill. We're all set to push the button."

    Fifth amendment: "... nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

    The cops were trying to steal service. The phone company knew damn well that if they turned on the phone without the necessary promise to pay they'd never see the money.

    Now the media are dumping on the phone company - in an obvious attempt to let such attempts to steal service succeed in the future. IMHO the blame should be placed where it belongs: On the police department and/or the family (to the extent that they should have paid up as part of THEIR obligations). Not on the phone company (which would then be drafted into funding a never-ending set of demands for free service whenever someone decided the situation was some sort of emergency).

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