DOJ Helped AT&T, Others Avoid Wiretap Act, Promised Not To Charge Them If They Helped Spy On People

from the uh.... dept

Want to know one reason why the feds are so interested in giving blanket immunity to anyone who helps them spy on people? Perhaps because they're already telling companies that they have immunity if they help them spy on people. Specifically, they've issued special letters of immunity, more or less helping companies like AT&T ignore the Wiretap Act.
Senior Obama administration officials have secretly authorized the interception of communications carried on portions of networks operated by AT&T and other Internet service providers, a practice that might otherwise be illegal under federal wiretapping laws.

The secret legal authorization from the Justice Department originally applied to a cybersecurity pilot project in which the military monitored defense contractors' Internet links. Since then, however, the program has been expanded by President Obama to cover all critical infrastructure sectors including energy, healthcare, and finance starting June 12.
Basically, the Justice Department, at the urging of the NSA, went to various telcos and ISPs and issued secret letters which told them that if they violated the Wiretap Act, the DOJ promised them it would not prosecute. Not surprisingly, this kind of thing is not what you would generally consider legal. However, after CISPA... it would likely be more protected:
A report (PDF) published last month by the Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan arm of Congress, says the executive branch likely does not have the legal authority to authorize more widespread monitoring of communications unless Congress rewrites the law. "Such an executive action would contravene current federal laws protecting electronic communications," the report says.

Because it overrides all federal and state privacy laws, including the Wiretap Act, legislation called CISPA would formally authorize the program without the government resorting to 2511 letters. In other words, if CISPA, which the U.S. House of Representatives approved last week, becomes law, any data-sharing program would be placed on a solid legal footing. AT&T, Verizon, and wireless and cable providers have all written letters endorsing CISPA.
Apparently, the DOJ knew how problematic this was, and the CEOs of the various ISPs had indicated how worried they were about this program, but it still went forward. In secret, of course. Until now.

Suddenly the emphasis on getting CISPA approved, and the attempts to frighten everyone with scare stories of what will happen without it, make a bit more sense...


Reader Comments (rss)

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  •  
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    That One Guy (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 1:56am

    Well, there goes the veto threat

    If the administration is willing to not only back, but expand the unofficial gathering of data from companies like this, I'd say the idea that they'd balk at making it official is somewhere between zero and none, as long as the bill presented has even the slightest veneer of protecting privacy they can point to to defend allowing it to pass unchallenged.

     

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      art guerrilla (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 12:08pm

      Re: Well, there goes the veto threat

      chocolate jesus is all about comforting bullshit in public, then doing the deal for the kapitalist piggies in private...

      it is what he has done since day one, and what he has done on nearly every issue of importance that has come along...

      no divination of entrails, no clairvoyance, no complex deconstruction is necessary: ignore his pretty/petty words (like all pols) and look at what he HAS DONE...
      excepting a very few social issues, he has gone king george IV one better in nearly every category...

      ...and yet, stupid libtard sheeple worship his every move when he is implementing a more extremist bush agenda...

      you know, it *is* a good thing we elected a brother; but that is the ONLY good thing about him... the only other thing saint obomber proves, is that a black man can be just as morally bankrupt as an old, rich, white man...

      from bootblack to bootlick...
      i *guess* that is progress...

      art guerrilla
      aka ann archy
      eof

       

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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    horse with no name, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 3:19am

    Do you really think

    Do you really think the whole US government is actively trying to pass a law only to backfill in this particular action? Do you live behind a grassy knoll?

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 3:32am

      Re: Do you really think

      Oh how delightfully nieve you are. Does everyone fart rainbows in your world?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
         
        identicon
        Anonymous, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 3:56am

        Re: Re: Do you really think

        Speaking of farting rainbows, AT&T has been supporting the fags for years.

         

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        •  
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 4:14am

          Re: Re: Re: Do you really think

          Well I dupport those who support fags. Except when they fuck your privacy rights in the ass

           

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 3:47am

      Re: Do you really think

      It's not a backfill; it's a threat to hold over others' heads. Like "Jones will come back!" in Animal Farm. Or are you just this much of an idiot?

      On the subject of Animal Farm, I think I know what this horse's name is - Boxer. With a spot of luck, maybe you'll be turned into glue and dog food.

       

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    •  
      icon
      Reverend Dak (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 12:53pm

      Re: Do you really think

      One does not equate to the other.

      1. Yes, absolutely what they're doing.
      2. No, I did not shoot Kennedy.

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 3:32am

    Care that the laws be faithfully executed.

    Article II, Section 3
    He [the president] shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed


    The president shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed. Faithfully executed. Faithfully executed. Faithfully executed.

    What the fuck does that clause really mean, anyhow? To Obama? To any of them? To anyone?

    What the fuck does that clause really mean?

     

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      Dirkmaster (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 5:50am

      Re: Care that the laws be faithfully executed.

      Nothing.

      It means absolutely nothing.

      Just like their word.

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 6:54am

      Re: Care that the laws be faithfully executed.

      Faithfully executed... for the highest bidder, of course.

       

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 7:41am

      Re: Care that the laws be faithfully executed.

      We Fully believe that we can eliminate the need for these laws...

      See they have been faithfully (full of belief) executed (eliminated).... Oh, that's not what was intended?

      OOPS, Did I do that?

       

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      Reverend Dak (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 12:56pm

      Re: Care that the laws be faithfully executed.

      Well, before religious types hijacked the word to mean One Thing, it meant to adhere, firmly, devotedly and loyally without question. So it's an appropriate word, but now since Faith is so strongly used to defend religion, it means squat.

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 3:49am

    The US government will throw any American under the bus for this, they want it badly and they are willing to go to any lengths to get it.

    Do the next big thing, encrypt all your data whenever possible so they can't read it.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 3:52am

    Businesses in charge of congress, an executive ignoring the law and the constitution, the US government is truly terrifying to outside observers. The US executive trying to impose its rules on the rest of the world for the benefit of the businesses that have bought congress. The US government is starting to treat its citizens like it treats the rest of the world, people who have to be prevented from acting against the interests of a small Oligarchy.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 4:23am

    so much for what i read earlier about new bills being written/discussed over protection for online communications etc. once something like this is in, mainly tnx to an idiot like Rogers for being behind it and lying through his back teeth to those who questioned it, what comes after CISPA will mean nothing! the DoJ and NSA will have gotten exactly what they wanted and the country gets one step closer to the Police State that someone, somewhere is obviously pressing so hard to make a reality!

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 4:28am

    A nation of men, not laws

    When the President does it, that means it is not illegal.

    (Former) President Richard Milhous Nixon, interview, May 20, 1977.

     

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      Violated (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 5:28am

      Re: A nation of men, not laws

      I well recall that when President Obama took office that he promised us all that he would respect the law a lot more than his predecessor did.

      I think we can now see the truth behind that statement when had he been serious he would soon be down the DoJ firing those responsible and threatening to shut down the entire department if law abuse continued. Or even to go as far as suing the DoJ and these ISPs in Court.

      The US Administration is a very worrying sight these days and what I most fear is a madman at the helm unleashing the full power of the USA on to their own citizens before turning to the rest of the World. Hopefully we never see that day but the US Administration is primed for some major abuse.

      I have been saying for a decade that the US Government has been spying on businesses where this is only one of many examples. A good reason for organizations to flee the country or at minimum to aim for full encryption.

       

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      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 5:57am

        Re: Re: A nation of men, not laws

        ... down [at] the DoJ firing those responsible...


        Wikipedia: Saturday Night Massacre
        The Saturday Night Massacre was the term given by political commentators to U.S. President Richard Nixon's executive dismissal of independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox, and the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus on October 20, 1973....



        ... The following day Nixon ordered Attorney General Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refused, and resigned in protest. Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. He also refused and resigned.

        Nixon then ordered the Solicitor General, Robert Bork (as acting head of the Justice Department) to fire Cox.


        Down at DoJ, firing those responsible. Someone got a LOLcats poster for that?

         

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          Violated (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 6:30am

          Re: Re: Re: A nation of men, not laws

          That was a rather misplaced reply when there is a big difference between a President firing a Congress appointed special investigator charged to investigate Presidential abuse of power and a President cleaning up the law abuse that is being done in his name.

          Should Obama not act then we can only conclude that he is fully happy with the DoJ pressuring ISPs to break the law.

           

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            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 6:37am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: A nation of men, not laws

            Should Obama not act then we can only conclude that he is fully happy with the DoJ pressuring ISPs to break the law.

            Oh, I expect Obama to act alrightI expect Obama's going to fire the people who leaked this program.

            Probably prosecute the leakers under the espionage act, too.

             

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    Mr. Applegate, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 4:32am

    I recommend a more appropriate Title for the DOJ.

    Injustice Department of Imperium Outrage and Tyranny and Sellouts

    better known as

    IDIOTS

    Tell me it isn't true.

     

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    RyanNerd (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 4:45am

    Faithfully Execute the Law

    No President of the United States is authorized to repeal parts of legislation passed by Congress. He may veto the whole legislation, but then Congress can override his veto if they have enough votes. Nevertheless, every President takes an oath to faithfully execute the laws that have been passed and sustained not just the ones he happens to agree with.

    If laws passed by the elected representatives of the people can be simply over-ruled unilaterally by whoever is in the White House, then we are no longer a free people, choosing what laws we want to live under.

    When a President can ignore the plain language of duly passed laws, and substitute his own executive orders, then we no longer have "a government of laws, and not of men" but a President ruling by decree, like the dictator in some banana republic.

     

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      identicon
      Wolfy, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 4:19pm

      Re: Faithfully Execute the Law

      Gee... isn't that exactly what bush/cheney/rumsfeld/wolfowitz did for eight years running?

       

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      art guerrilla (profile), Apr 26th, 2013 @ 10:00am

      Re: Faithfully Execute the Law

      sure, *THEORETICALLY*, *just* like 'how a bill becomes law' type of lessons we've all seen since first grade are the *theoretical* construct of the process; but the ACTUAL process is 2-3 levels of deep politics us 99% are not eligible to observe...

      *BUT* (and it is a big butt), can anyone tell me exactly WHERE the so-called 'executive signing statements' fit in this 'how a bill becomes law' process ? ? ?

      i've been scouring my copy of the constitution for 'executive signing statements', and i'll be gosh-durned if i can find it... (nevermind *SECRET* executive signing statements)

      so -in effect- the pres actually signs a bill into law (or a veto is overidden), and the pres simply busts out a secret executive signing statement that says 'NOT!', which negates the whole law...

      gee, don't tell me: some president made a secret executive signing statement which authorized secret executive signing statements having the force of law...
      *snicker*

      art guerrilla
      aka ann archy
      eof

       

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    The Real Michael, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 4:48am

    DOJ to telcos: You scratch our back, we'll scratch yours.

    Telcos to DOJ: We'll be happy to assist you in violating our customers' privacy.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 5:01am

    So do I suppose, then, that this qualifies as the government letting us know which law is the problem and why we need CISPA to fix it?

    "It's that pesky Wiretap Act. It makes a lot of our surveillance illegal! (which of course has not stopped us)"

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 5:25am

    Decency, security and liberty alike demand....

    Decency, security and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperilled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means to declare that the Government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal would bring terrible retribution.

    Mr Justice Brandeis, dissenting in Olmstead v United States (1928; decision overturned by Katz (1967))

     

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    Bengie, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 5:27am

    If they can

    If the government can pick random laws to break, why can't the people?

     

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      Rapnel (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 8:45am

      Re: If they can

      Don't we?

      For both it's still simply a matter of not getting caught. It's the "what happens when you're caught" bit that seems disproportionally skewed.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 8:01am

    What's also interesting is this could illustrate the key to making sure CISPA is defeated. If someone on the Tea Party side of the party were to post an article claiming CISPA was just an attempt to cover Obama's butt. Once it bounces around in the right wing echo chamber for a while it might become truthy enough to make it politically toxic for the R's.

     

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    Overcast (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 9:14am

    The department of 'injustice' strikes yet again.

    No surprise of course.

     

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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 9:19am

    Data sharing

    According to the linked article, "The Wiretap Act limits the ability of Internet providers to eavesdrop on network traffic except when monitoring is a 'necessary incident' to providing the service or it takes place with a user's 'lawful consent.'"

    The data gathering companies are already eavesdropping (with user's consent through the service agreement). If government got out of the security business and just handed it over to private enterprise, we'd end up with as much or more monitoring than we have now, but that would skirt some of the politics of government being involved.

    I keep point out that companies want to monitor people and are already doing it. They will get their way, given the way things work in DC.

     

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      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 9:47am

      Re: Data sharing

      We already have massive citizen monitoring by private companies right now. They are already cross-referencing different data sets so they know what people do on and offline.

      What's being worked out now is what happens with the data and who is protected. The companies want to continue to monitor people, save the data, and act on the data, but they want to cover themselves so that they don't get in trouble for all of this monitoring.

      You will likely see laws drafted or regulations dropped to protect the companies. It's not about citizen privacy because that would kill what these data gathering and data selling companies are doing.

       

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      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 10:03am

      Re: Data sharing

      Look at this. Technology is providing so many ways to monitor people and their activities now, and companies don't want these doors closed to them. There's a ton of money in monitoring because it gives you more insight into what people do, and you can sell that. You can completely toss government aside, and companies will still monitor people.

      New Technology Inspires a Rethinking of Light - NYTimes.com: "Recognizing this, other companies, like the newly renamed Sensity Systems (formerly Xeralux) are reimagining lampposts as nodes in a smart network that illuminate spaces, visually monitor them, sense heat and communicate with other nodes and human monitors."

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 9:25am

    And they've officially lost the high ground in both wars and the whole "free and open Internet" debate. They will be remembered as the next Soviet Union.

    If our World War 2 veterans knew their descendents were going to be like the enemies they risked their lives and countries to eradicate, the pro-life movement would've never existed.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 2:06pm

    Not surprising, considering how tight Barry is plutocrat phone monopolies.

     

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      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 2:38pm

      Re:

      Not surprising, considering how tight Barry is plutocrat phone monopolies.

      This isn't limited to phone companies. Lots of companies are compiling data. If anything, the phone companies have far less of it than other companies.

      CISPA suffers setback in Senate citing privacy concerns | Politics and Law - CNET News: "The Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act, commonly known as CISPA, permits private sector companies -- including technology firms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft, among others -- to pass 'cyber threat' data, including personal user data, to the U.S. government.

      "This means a company like Facebook, Twitter, Google, or any other technology or telecoms company, including your cell service provider, would be legally able to hand over vast amounts of data to the U.S. government and its law enforcement -- for whatever purpose it deems necessary -- and face no legal reprisals."

       

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    techgeko (profile), Apr 26th, 2013 @ 10:23am

    "We the people" = "We the money"

    If the admininstration has been doing this secretly behind the scenes, then the veto threat
    has been a big fat LIE to the American people. They have been orchestrating this bill from the very beginning.

    Your rights have just been bought by special interest groups.

     

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      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 26th, 2013 @ 11:03am

      Re: "We the people" = "We the money"

      This is the nuance that needs to be addressed. This is a bill that benefits private enterprise. You can't isolate government from private enterprise. Among the companies that collect data, privacy is not one of their concerns, and they will look for laws that protect them as they collect data and share it/selling; and hope to eliminate laws that prevent them from data collection and sharing/selling.

      Thinking that private enterprise is your friend and that government is your enemy can distract you from some of the issues. I think it might be better to make government better rather than to eliminate it and give all control over to private enterprise, which often would prefer to operate without any supervision or regulation at all.

      Its privacy versus cybersecurity as CISPA bill arrives in Senate | PCWorld: "CISPA would let private companies share data with law enforcement officials and government agencies if the data qualifies as what the bill calls 'cyber threat information' that could help solve a crime. That terms vagueness is a big part of the privacy problem, says Jeramie Scott, national security fellow at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. 'It uses terms like "vulnerability to a network" and "threat to the integrity of a network" in its definition that are left to the private sector to interpret,' Scott says.
      Definitions covering data are vague enough to invite oversharing

      "CISPAs vagueness gives private companies a lot of wiggle room to overshare information."

       

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        Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 26th, 2013 @ 11:25am

        Re: Re: "We the people" = "We the money"

        Here's how I would best put it.

        The goal of many Internet companies days isn't to protect you. It's to protect themselves.

        They want to know as much about you as possible and to use that to their advantage. They are monitoring you as fast as the technology allows them to do so and looking for ways to profit from that. There will be monitoring devices in every home, every street corner, and on every device you carry. Not because government wants it or has the manpower to do anything with that flood of data, but because companies can make money from all of that surveillance.

        These companies are interested in security ... to protect their own operations. Sometimes that means working pro-actively with government.

         

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        Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 26th, 2013 @ 2:12pm

        Re: Re: "We the people" = "We the money"

        I just reread this and it might not be clear.

        I think it might be better to make government better rather than to eliminate it and give all control over to private enterprise, which often would prefer to operate without any supervision or regulation at all.

        What I should have written:

        I think it might be better to improve government rather than to eliminate it. I'm wary of a system that allows private enterprise to operate without any supervision or regulation.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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