So it’s good bye Verizon–hello Qwest. After reading about the latest and ever-expanding NSA spying scandal yesterday, I decided to call Verizon Wireless today and ask them to explain their thinking in cooperating with NSA. I was told to call the Verizon Customer Relations department in California (1-800-483-7988). If you’re a customer I’d urge you to do the same to complain about what they’ve done. I told the representative that I was pulling my two cell phone accounts from Verizon and writing about it in my blog unless she could tell me that Verizon was reconsidering its policy. She could not confirm that.
So my next call was to Qwest–as far as I’m concerned–the hero of this entire sordid tale. Now, I have my landline and two cell phone accounts with the only one of the big four national phone companies which resisted the NSA’s imprecations to sell its customers’ privacy down the river.
Several attorneys are filing class action suits against Verizon. If you are a customer and wish to participate in the suit, you can either visit Michael Psacazi’s law firm website or send him an e mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A commenter at my Daily Kos diary entry on this story quoted this disturbing passage from Barton Gellman’s, Data on Phone Calls Monitored in today’s Washington Post article:
One government lawyer who has participated in negotiations with telecommunications providers said the Bush administration has argued that a company can turn over its entire database of customer records — and even the stored content of calls and e-mails — because customers “have consented to that” when they establish accounts. The fine print of many telephone and Internet service contracts includes catchall provisions, the lawyer said, authorizing the company to disclose such records to protect public safety or national security, or in compliance with a lawful government request.
“It is within their terms of service because you have consented to that,” the lawyer said. If the company also consents, “and they do it voluntarily, the U.S. government can accept it.”
Verizon’s customer agreement, for example, acknowledges the company’s “duty under federal law to protect the confidentiality of information about the quantity, technical configuration, type, destination, and amount of your use of our service,” but it provides for exceptions to “protect the safety of customers, employees or property.” Verizon will disclose confidential records, it says, “as required by law, legal process, or exigent circumstances.”
Like the other companies named by USA Today, Verizon declined to confirm or deny that it had turned over customer records. “We do not comment on national security matters, we act in full compliance with the law and we are committed to safeguarding our customers’ privacy,” spokesman Peter Thonis said in a statement. But Verizon Wireless, a joint venture with Britain’s Vodafone Group PLC, denied involvement in the program.
Get this, the law jockey quoted above tells us that not only can the phone companies turn over call records as they have done, it’s also perfectly legal for them to turn over “even the stored content of calls and e-mails.” By which I assume he means that Verizon could also turn over the actual content of my calls to the feds. This is something Bush and Hayden swear up and down that they’re not doing. But to think one of their legal geniuses is propounding the theory that they COULD do it is aggravating beyond belief. Those people have unbelievable effrontery in shoving our noses in their high and mighty imperial presidency doo-doo.
The passage from the article noting that “Verizon will disclose confidential records as required by law, legal process or EXIGENT CIRCUMSTANCES” is a big enough security hole to drive a Mack truck through. And who’s to decide what “exigent circumstances” are? The company of course. Verizon makes clear in its public statements defending its actions that it found the NSA request/demand for the records to constitute “exigent circumstances.” It makes the blood boil.
Finally, I don’t know what to make of the concluding sentence in which Verizon Wireless denies participation in the program. All I can say is I called Verizon Wireless today and they forwarded me to the above-mentioned customer relations specialist who did not deny involvement. What’ll it be, Verizon Wireless–and why doesn’t your left-hand know what your right-hand is doing?
Just for the hell of it, I checked Verizon Wireless’s privacy guidelines and they are different than the parent company’s as quoted above. Here’s what the former’s website says:
Disclosure of Personally Identifiable Information
* We enable you to control how and if we disclose your personally identifiable information to other persons or entities, except as required by law or to protect the safety of customers, employees or property.
If Verizon Wireless is indeed cooperating with the NSA someone pretty smart is gonna have to explain to me how this regulation enables them to do it since it gives the company a lot less leeway in opening customer records to an entity like the NSA–at least the way I’m reading it.
I was tickled to read this passage from the NY Times today which pondered whether phone companies felt pressured to cooperate due to a potential threat to their government contracts:
While the telephone companies have both business contracts and regulatory issues before the federal government, executives in the industry yesterday dismissed the notion that they felt pressure to take part in any surveillance programs. The small group of executives with the security clearance necessary to deal with the government on such matters, they said, are separate from the regulatory and government contracting divisions of the companies.
Compare this to yesterday’s USAToday story describing Qwest’s experience with the NSA:
Trying to put pressure on Qwest, NSA representatives pointedly told Qwest that it was the lone holdout among the big telecommunications companies. It also tried appealing to Qwest’s patriotic side: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest’s refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, one person recalled.
In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest’s foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.
Oh no, I’m sure those AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth execs didn’t give a second thought to the issue of endangering their federal government work.