Telcos Refused To Sign On To 'Let Us Be Transparent About Surveillance' Letter

from the well-look-at-that dept

We’ve discussed before that, while the major tech companies have been pretty vocal about the NSA surveillance situation, the major telcos have been almost universally silent. In fact, it has since come out that AT&T and Verizon were more or less shoving each other aside to “volunteer” to hand your info over to the government. The further revelations (including some past leaks) about how AT&T and Verizon have more or less given the NSA on-premise access to all data going through their pipes suggest a level of cooperation with government that is stunning and dangerous — especially given the market dominance held by the telcos at the internet backbone level.

We were just talking about how various tech companies have strongly asked the government for permission to be a lot more transparent, but it seems equally notable that, according to a report in the NY Times, the telcos were approached about joining on the letter and declined to participate:

While prominent Internet companies are pushing for fuller disclosure, some of the nation’s largest telecommunications firms were not willing to sign on, according to several people involved in the coalition.

Gee, I wonder why? In fact, the only company on the list whose main business is internet access is the small ISP, who has built up its (wonderful) reputation as one of the only ISPs out there that really tries to align its business with its customers’ best interests.

Meanwhile, if you’re wondering what the big telcos are doing instead of pushing for this kind of necessary transparency? Apparently it’s hiring incredibly powerful lobbyists, including the recently-departed FTC chairperson (and former MPAA lobbyist) Jon Leibowitz, along with former Congressional Rep. (another Hollywood favorite) Mary Bono Mack, to “lobby Congress on digital privacy policies.” You think they’ll be advocating for better privacy protections? Or… better protection for themselves against the privacy concerns of the public. The group isn’t saying, but it’s not hard to take a guess.

Tim Karr, a policy analyst at the communications watchdog group Free Press, tweeted after the coalition went public that AT&T launching a privacy coalition is like “Ted Nugent” launching “wildlife coalition.”

The level of transparency demanded by the tech firms could (and should) go much further than what they’re currently asking. But at least they’re asking for transparency, and there’s at least some evidence that some of the companies — mainly Twitter, Yahoo! and Google — have fought back against Government requests. When it comes to the telcos, not only is there little evidence of them pushing back against government overreach, it appears that the telcos actively volunteered to make such overreaches easier. That might explain why they’re not so keen on “transparency.” Having to reveal numbers like “number of users impacted: all of them” probably won’t go over well. Somehow, I doubt their massive new “digital privacy” lobbying effort will seek to improve this situation.

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Comments on “Telcos Refused To Sign On To 'Let Us Be Transparent About Surveillance' Letter”

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John Thacker (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Telcos are highly regulated, and indeed become nearly indistinguishable from government.

Note that recent article mentioned that the NSA gets companies to agree to tapping of backbones thanks to the FCC power to regulate undersea cable installations.

Anyone think that giving the FCC powers over net neutrality and how Internet companies use it wouldn’t result in the FCC saying that “being open to lawful intercept and tapping” was a part of “net neutrality?”

out_of_the_blue says:

Will any "level of transparency" reduce the amount of surveillance?

NO, so why do you run these pieces? Mere hair-splitting when up against criminals who don’t care about the law.

Your shifting of focus from the basic criminality of unlimited surveillance to more “transparency” that won’t lessen the criminality is exactly in accord with the goals of a limited hangout: helping them get the populace used to the current level of surveillance, and ready for the next stage.

Plus, by playing up these, you again further the totally artificial notion of certain corporations being good and acting in public interest, trying to stop the NSA, when in fact, NONE are. We’re in full-blown corporatism where is no separation between corporations and gov’t: all pursue the same goal of full-time tracking of everyone in the world.

gorehound (profile) says:

Re: Re: Will any "level of transparency" reduce the amount of surveillance?

I dropped them at least 10 Years ago.I so hate these Telcos.I am on a Non-Contract Verizon Phone…….only a fliptop with no Internet ever thru it nor do I do Text.All I do is to use it as a phone.
Nothing important is ever discussed or ever will be LIVE on a phone.
All other stuff I do is thru a Desktop,properly VPN’d , Firewalled, ETC.

Anonymous Coward says:

seems to me that the main Telcos are trying to align their businesses with their customers wallets! usual US situation, if there is a way to fleece customers, whether it’s by charging extortionate prices because of the monopoly stupid, back hand receiving politicians give or because of favours being requested in return for giving away customers data and a access to that data to the government, the business concerned will do it! no business cares less for customers than in the USA and i doubt if any government expects to get more from businesses and citizens, knowingly or not, again, than in the USA. the reputation used to be worth having and one to be proud of. oh, how things have changed!!

Peter Dow (profile) says:

Doesn't answer the question "Why?"

The article doesn’t explain why the telcos are silent. Based on other news stories on the subject, e.g., which in part says “AT&T, for example, imposes a $325 “activation fee” for each wiretap and $10 a day to maintain it. Smaller carriers Cricket and U.S. Cellular charge only about $250 per wiretap. But snoop on a Verizon customer? That costs the government $775 for the first month and $500 each month after that, according to industry disclosures made last year to Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.” it seems fairly obvious why they aren’t saying anything. And for this article to say the telcos have “given” the NSA access isn’t exactly what’s going on.

Aztecian says:

Do we need more proof?

Telcos are pure evil. The only time they appear slightly less than pure evil is when they are compared with each other… then the little ones trying to get bigger sometimes do things that aren’t as evil as the others…but those things are always temporary.

Let’s keep this part simple: Telcos = Evil. All.

American says:

Re: Capitalism

That’s not capitalism, that’s equal parts hyper paranoia and ultra liberal politics. The Soviets did the same things in the USSR, wire tapping large portions of the general public and targeting people that didn’t go along with their political agenda. Corporations were owned and run by government. They were, by definition as communists, anti capitalist. They’re doing this just as much to target political adversaries to be classified as “domestic terrorists” as they are to identify actual terrorists.

While I am not happy about these companies “volunteering” to give up this info, the way I see it, at least they’re making it cost something. At some point in the future, there are going to be cuts to the finances(I say “finances” because we still have no national budget plan) available to the NSA and as this program becomes increasingly unpopular and increasingly costly, Senetors and Representatives are going to be pushing harder and harder for it to be removed from the NSA’s SOP. Especially when this program doesn’t produce any reasonable, actionable data on any real terrorists, but instead is found to be targeting citizens who’s activities have nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with opposing Obama.

Graham J (profile) says:

Re: Re: Capitalism

With communism the government owns the corporations. What you have is a system where the corporations own the government. That’s capitalism – everyone hails the almighty dollar. It’s also very conservative (as opposed to liberal)

While I agree there’s the potential for this spying to be used against political adversaries, I think it’s a bit tinfoil hatish to say that’s happening already, and given this system was put in place during the Bush administration it clearly wasn’t designed to keep Obama in power.

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