Hide Techdirt is off for the long weekend! We'll be back with our regular posts tomorrow.

AT&T's Transparency Report Offers Little Actual Transparency, Omits Millions Of Metadata Records

from the you-are-using-a-different-dictionary dept

When it comes to cozying up to the NSA, you’d be hard pressed to find a company that has been more cooperative with the agency’s surveillance practices than AT&T. Long before Snowden, former AT&T whistle blower Mark Klein exposed (pdf) the fact that AT&T was effectively letting NSA have access to every shred of data that touches the AT&T network via live fiber splits. AT&T’s involvement doesn’t just stop at spying, information has indicated they have a history of giving the government advice on how to best bypass the law in addition to even acting as volunteer intelligence analysts when needed. Patriotism!

After remaining mute during most of the Snowden firestorm (with the exception of telling investors whom AT&T spies on it is none of their business), AT&T has since agreed to start issuing transparency reports. Unfortunately, as with all things NSA, the word “transparency” doesn’t mean what anybody thinks it means. As Wired notes, given what we know about what AT&T is actually doing, their estimate of 301,816 total government requests for information last year falls tens of millions short of what AT&T actually collects and hands off to government agencies:

“AT&T’s transparency report counts 301,816 total requests for information — spread between subpoenas, court orders and search warrants — in 2013. That includes between 2,000 and 4,000 under the category “national security demands,” which collectively gathered information on about 39,000 to 42,000 different accounts.

There was a time when that number would have seemed high. Today, it’s suspiciously low, given the disclosures by whistleblower Edward Snowden about the NSA’s bulk metadata program. We now know that the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is ordering the major telecoms to provide the NSA a firehose of metadata covering every phone call that crosses their networks.

An accurate transparency report should include a line indicating that AT&T has turned over information on each and every one of its more than 80 million-plus customers. It doesn’t.”

That’s of course is because the new transparency guidelines (pdf) AT&T follows allow for total non-transparency in regards to disclosing metadata, using semantics to avoid disclosure:

“(EFF Attorney Nate) Cardozo believes that AT&T is correct that it is barred from disclosing the metadata numbers, because of the Obama administration’s careful choice of language in the section relating to orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The guidelines allow for the disclosure, in chunks of 1,000, of “the number of customer selectors [phone numbers] targeted under FISA non-content orders.” Since the bulk metadata collection doesn’t “target” any “selectors” it is, by definition, not subject to disclosure.”

And while Wired remains focused on metadata (call times, IDs, call duration), they’re failing to note that if what Klein said remains true (and people seem to forget Klein existed, for some reason), we’re talking about not only metadata — but real time data streams and voice monitoring that isn’t being disclosed as well. As we noted with Verizon’s transparency report, you’re not being all that transparent when you’re omitting bulk collection of surveillance data, and the data you do disclose operates in vague ranges designed to be intentionally misleading. So when we say transparency, we of course mean not transparent whatsoever.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: at&t

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “AT&T's Transparency Report Offers Little Actual Transparency, Omits Millions Of Metadata Records”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

I can’t bring myself to be gullible enough to believe anything the telcos are telling me. AT&T has fiber-optic splitter installed on all their networks that send copies of everything to the NSA.

Why would the NSA need to request anything from AT&T, if the NSA already has their own copies of everything passing though the network.

The math just doesn’t add up. I also belive one National Security Letter, can encompass somewhere between 1 to millions of individuals, for a single NSL request. Telco ‘transparency’ stats are meaningless, and nothing more than window dressing.

DannyB (profile) says:

Wouldn't it be easier?

Wouldn’t it be easier, not the mention more truthful, to call these Opaqueness Reports instead of Transparency Reports?

After all, opaqueness is the goal, therefore it shouldn’t it be the title of the report?

It’s like how school report cards are called ‘progress reports’, because progress is the goal.

Of course, Transparency Reports maybe is just as well. It’s like the cable industry ‘reporting’ how cord cutting isn’t happening, it’s all just a myth. Or the movie industry ‘reporting’ how piracy is preventing them from reporting ever larger profits year over year. Similarly, maybe anything they do report as an increase of transparency should be read similarly.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...