This is another "unintended consequence" of the Snowden revelations last year, though likely not one anyone anticipated. In the past, the government would've had no choice but to conduct this kind of action behind the tightest of closed doors, lest secrets leak that would reveal to the American people exactly how monitored our telecommunications are. Now, in the wake of the Snowden leaks, there's no longer any reason to keep the suit secret.
The facts of the lawsuit are simple: According to the government, Sprint is authorized to bill for the "reasonable expenses it incurs by providing facilities or assistance to accomplish a wiretap, a pen register, or a trap device." Sprint, however, is not allowed to recover the costs of modifying its equipment, facilities, or services to comply with federal wiretap regulations that require them to be capable of intercepting the communications in the first place.
The government alleges that Sprint billed it for practices that weren't eligible for billing from January 1 2007 to July 31, 2010, but has refused to refund the estimated $21M in "unallowable costs" that were collected by the company between those two dates. The government is now suing in open court to get the money back and asking for treble damages (a total of $63M dollars).
The Cost Is Not The Point
$21M or $63M, the cost is not the point. The point is that the government, far from being cowed by public anger, has the unmitigated gall to declare itself the victim of corporate malfeasance. The arrogance of this move is astounding. Telecom customers built the networks that spy on them with fees. We pay for the government with taxes. Now one of them is suing the other for what amounts to our money in both cases because the spying no one asked for or desired wasn't carried out according to rules as laid down by the FCC at a time when the FCC, presumably, wasn't aware that its wiretapping decisions were used to require the telecoms to spy on every citizen.
Welcome to America, where you have no say in whether or not your data is recorded and tracked by both companies and governments, but both of them are happy to charge you for the privilege. If this case goes to court, the judge ought to use it as reason to ban telecommunications companies from claiming to take their customers' rights seriously, ever again.