Sunday, May 14, 2006

USA Today Breaks Newest Wiregate Revelations

This was the story I wanted to write so badly I spent 12 hours tracking down, correcting, and posting more than 50 newspaper columns in a brand spanking new blog. Exactly one month after I published this story based on information I found at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, USA Today broke the same story on their site, adding Verizon and my very own BellSouth to the list of offenders. One of the things that story glosses over, however, is the fact that the NSA was also tracking AT&T customers' internet use, including a list of specific web addresses accessed. I wouldnt be surprised to find out they were doing the same thing with Bellsouth and Verizon.

I called BellSouth to complain about this the day I found out; call me crazy, but it seems like a little customer outcry is in order. The poor girl who answered the phone of course knew nothing about it, so I asked to speak to her manager. 45 minutes and two botched transfers later, I finally got a nice, patronizing management type. I told him I objected in the strongest possible terms to BellSouth's illegal cooperation with unauthorized surveillance of American citizens, that I was seeking an alternate phone carrier immediately, and that I have every intention of joining the inevitable class action law suit against them. He would, of course, neither confirm nor deny anything, and when I told him I was recording our discussion, he said "I'm sorry, I can't continue this conversation" and hung up.

One class action suit has already been filed by the EFF on behalf of AT&T customers. The U.S. government, as expected, is invoking the state secrets privilege; they have filed a Statement of Interest in an attempt to get the case dismissed on grounds of national security. In light of the stggering amount of media coverage this betrayal of the public trust has generated, claiming that it's a secret seems a laughable defense. To my knowledge, there have been no suits filed against Verizon or AT&T; please drop me a line if you know anything about either of these.

Kudos to Qwest Communications, though! When the NSA approached them about the program, CEO Joe Nacchio asked the company's legal department to request a court order. The NSA refused on the grounds that they weren't sure they could get one! Needless to say, Qwest is up there on my list of alternate telecommunications carriers.

The NSA swears up and down that they don't actually eavesdrop on the conversations themselves, merely tracking every call made to and from a specific number, but given that in November they said that the government doesn't engage in warrantless surveillance, then in December we were being assured that they were only listening to phone calls where at least one party was outside of the United States, and then in February they claimed that purely domestic calls were fair game only where one party was suspected of terrorism, I don't believe a word of it. Be sure to say hi to the NSA when you call Mom today.

The EFF has set up a site to help you contact your Congressperson about the program. Here are a couple more stories about Uncle Sam's other underhanded attempts to create Big Brother:
Court Upholds Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking
Government-Mandated Tracking Systems Installed in Millions of Printers and Copiers

I'll keep you posted.


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