Tuesday, May 16, 2006

phone companies respond to NSA record allegations

Finals are almost over. I'm just poking my head out of the hermitage during a quick study break.

It looks like Reuters is reporting on some interesting developments in the NSA domestic wiretapping and record collection issue. Apparently there's a multi-hundred-million-dollar class action suit forming against the long distance companies that have allegedly been turning over records to the NSA. From the Reuters article, it sounds like their responses are, paraphrased, "We didn't give them records. We won't say whether we let them come in and collect their own records."

It'd be a shame in this case to rely entirely on one news source. Here are direct links to the press releases:
  • Verizon (intereting URL -- I'm curious what the "PROACTIVE_ID" field means):
    Again, Verizon cannot and will not confirm or deny whether it has any relationship to the classified NSA program. Verizon always stands ready, however, to help protect the country from terrorist attack. We owe this duty to our fellow citizens. We also have a duty, that we have always fulfilled, to protect the privacy of our customers. The two are not in conflict. When asked for help, we will always make sure that any assistance is authorized by law and that our customers’ privacy is safeguarded.

  • BellSouth:
    As a result of media reports that BellSouth provided massive amounts of customer calling information under a contract with the NSA, the Company conducted an internal review to determine the facts. Based on our review to date, we have confirmed no such contract exists and we have not provided bulk customer calling records to the NSA.

  • AT&T:
    We prize the trust our customers place in us. If and when AT&T is asked to help, we do so strictly within the law and under the most stringent conditions.
In the meantime, an ABC blogger has reported the government is using phone records to try to locate reporters' confidential sources, though it's not clear these phone records came from the same data collection program. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if it's a different program, since the NSA one seems to be more about broad spectrum data mining than individualized suspicion (which, I think, would allow a FISA warrant.)

The times are indeed getting interesting. But I need to get back to studying.

Update: this post from Schneier on Security appears relevant. It provides highlights from an EFF lawsuit against AT&T that seem to discuss an NSA-owned data collection system within AT&T's network: "In January 2003, Klein observed a new room being built adjacent to the room housing AT&T's #4ESS switching equipment, which is responsible for routing long distance and international calls. . . . Klein's job eventually included connecting internet circuits to a splitting cabinet that led to the secret room."

I think the bottom line on this wiretapping issue is to ask yourself what sort of world you would like to live in. I don't have time to write much more about this issue now, but a good starting point might be to think about whether it's really true that there's a necessary tradeoff between security and privacy. If you believe there is, then another question to consider is what we're trading away, exactly what we're gaining, and whether the exchange is worth it.

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