Boy, if I were an AT&T customer I sure wouldn’t be after reading this spooky story from the NY Times about the company’s cooperation with the NSA in intercepting customers communications and passing it along to the feds:
Mark Klein was a veteran AT&T technician in 2002 when he began to see what he thought were suspicious connections between that telecommunications giant and the National Security Agency.
…Now Mr. Klein and a few company documents he saved have emerged as key elements in a class-action lawsuit filed against AT&T on Jan. 31 by a civil liberties group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The suit accuses the company of helping the security agency invade its customers’ privacy.
Mr. Klein’s account and the documents provide new details about how the agency works with the private sector in intercepting communications for intelligence purposes…
The equipment, which Mr. Klein said was installed by AT&T in 2003, was able to select messages that could be identified by keywords, Internet or e-mail addresses or country of origin and divert copies to another location for further analysis…
The technical experts all said that the documents showed that AT&T had an agreement with the federal government to systematically gather information flowing on the Internet through the company’s network…
“This took expert planning and hundreds of millions of dollars to build,” said Brian Reid, director of engineering at the Internet Systems Consortium in Redwood City, Calif. “This is the correct way to do high volume Internet snooping.”..
Mr. Klein said other AT&T technicians had told him of such installations in San Jose, Calif.; Los Angeles; San Diego; and Seattle…
The Internet hubs there carry a significant amount of international traffic. The network designer and other experts said it would be a simple technical matter to reprogram the equipment to intercept purely domestic Internet traffic.
Which means that the feds easily could and probably are intercepting purely domestic traffic–a clear violation of the Foreign Surveillance Act. We need to find out once and for all and definitively whether or not the NSA engages in this type of clearly ilicit activity. Will Congress ever have to nerve to pursue this? Unfortunately, I doubt it. But one can always hope.
Let this be a lesson to all of us about our ISPs. I’ve asked my telephone company (Qwest) and ISP (Comcast) to tell me whether they cooperate with the NSA and what their policy is regarding federal internet surveillance. They haven’t even bothered to reply. We each have a responsibility to pressure our providers to be more transparent about this matter. Even more important, we need to pressure our federal legislators to protect our privacy rights by reining in the NSA snoopsters and providing guidelines for telecommunication providers to follow. Otherwise, our lives will be an open book to spies and federal bureaucrats.
Dan Sniderman says
More than just their customers need to be concerned. You may be communicating with someone who uses them on the other end. And also – they own much of the “backbone” of the Internet – your communcation could pass through their routers even if both you and the person you are communicating with aren’t their customers…
Richard Silverstein says
Yes, of course that’s right. We all need to be concerned. But their customers are the ones who can vote w. their feet by choosing an ISP that doesn’t cooperate w. the NSA unless it is legally obligated to do so. Customers count (& regulators too–but forget them in this case since they’re feds too).
Dan Sniderman says
As I suspected, it is that insideous – this is DOMESTIC spying and on traffic passing through, not just their “own traffic”.
Bruce Schneier, one of THE foremost experts on computer security posted an excerpt from a Wired magazine article on this at http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2006/04/att_assisting_n.html
“The split circuits included traffic from peering links connecting to other internet backbone providers, meaning that AT&T was also diverting traffic routed from its network to or from other domestic and international providers, according to Klein’s statement”
Schneier also has links to the hardware manufacturer of the data-mining equipment AT&T has on-site…
Richard Silverstein says
I don’t claim to understand the technical detail of this. But the security expert who wrote the DailyKos article call this the greatest violation of privacy in the history of the nation “by several orders of magnitiude.” That’s damn chilling to me.