AT&T CEO Thinks You're A Forgetful Idiot, Hilariously Gives Apple Encryption Advice

from the glass-skyscrapers dept

You really can’t find a pair of cozier bosom buddies than AT&T and the NSA. Long before Snowden, whistleblowers like 22-year AT&T employee Mark Klein highlighted (pdf) how AT&T was duplicating fiber streams, effectively providing the NSA with its own mirror copy of every shred of data that touched the AT&T network. More recent documents have also highlighted AT&T’s “extreme willingness” to help, whether that involves having its employees act as intelligence analysts themselves, or giving advice to the government on the best ways to skirt, dance around, or smash directly through privacy and surveillance law.

So it was a little bit amusing last week when AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson thought it would be a good idea to chime in on the encryption debate. In a back-rubbing, feel good interview with the Wall Street Journal, Stephenson had the stones to actually suggest the company’s unprecedented, disturbing ties to the NSA were all but fantasy:

“The AT&T chief said his own company has been unfairly singled out in the debate over access to data. ?It is silliness to say there?s some kind of conspiracy between the U.S. government and AT&T,? he said, adding that the company turns over information only when accompanied by a warrant or court order.”

Omitted of course is that for much of the last fifteen years AT&T did nothing of the sort, working in tandem with the NSA, FBI, and every other government agency to hoover up U.S. citizen data with minimal oversight and virtually no regard for the law. When busted, AT&T had enough political power to get the government to give its telco partners retroactive immunity. To brush this documented and disturbing history aside like cracker crumbs in bed gives you a pretty good idea of Stephenson’s hubris. It also shows you what the CEO has learned after fifteen years of unprecedented scandal.

Stephenson then apparently thought it would be a good idea to start giving lectures to companies that actually give a shit about the privacy of their customers. According to Stephenson, companies like Apple and Google shouldn’t be embracing encryption, because that’s something that should only be acted on by our stalwart representatives in Congress:

“I don?t think it is Silicon Valley?s decision to make about whether encryption is the right thing to do. I understand Tim Cook?s decision, but I don?t think it?s his decision to make,? Mr. Stephenson said…?I personally think that this is an issue that should be decided by the American people and Congress, not by companies,? Mr. Stephenson said.

Of course Stephenson’s intentionally ignoring the fact that companies like Apple and Google are now rushing to embrace encryption because that’s what consumers want. Much like AT&T did with net neutrality, it’s also urging that the issue be left to Congress, because it knows Congress is either too cash-compromised or incompetent to do the right thing. For some time, it hasn’t been entirely clear where AT&T as a company ends and the nation’s intelligence services begin, so giving any advice on “the right thing to do” in regards to surveillance and privacy is utterly adorable.

AT&T certainly has ample credibility, just not on the encryption front. AT&T’s the company you go to if you want advice on how to, say, defraud programs designed to help the hearing impaired or low income Americans. AT&T’s the company you go to when you want advice on how to rip off consumers with fraudulent services. AT&T’s also the foremost authority on effectively buying state legislatures and convincing them to write abysmal, protectionist laws to demolish competitive threats. But advice on the “right thing to do” when it comes to encryption? Thanks, we’ll pass.

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Companies: apple, at&t

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Comments on “AT&T CEO Thinks You're A Forgetful Idiot, Hilariously Gives Apple Encryption Advice”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Hmmm. Interesting.

“I personally think that this is an issue that should be decided by the American people and Congress, not by companies,”

Read that using historical lenses and you’ll quickly see the truth behind it. When he sais “decided by American people” it’s just him pretending to care because ultimately the goal is to let “Congress” decide (because people obviously voted, right, right?). And by Congress he means the ones AT&T bought or those ignorant enough to fight against encryption (arguing for backdoors is essentially arguing for no encryption). And I honestly believe there is less than a handful of really ignorant people in the Congress.

His statements are just choke full of shit.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Incoming Godwin in 3...2...

Actually, this guy would be a n00b compared to Hitler. The latter had such an eloquent way of speaking from what we get from history that he could convince you that what the 3rd Reich was doing was a-ok with Human Rights. The question here is how many the sweet words manage to reach. In a post 1st WW Germany deep in economic woes he had a very willing audience. Desperation and ignorance provide quite a lot of maneuvering over the masses. How many did this CEO actually convince?

DannyB (profile) says:

Mr. Stephenson said

“I personally think that [whether to use encryption] is an issue that should be decided by the American people and Congress, not by companies,”

It should be decided by the American People. Congress does NOT represent the American people. Congress is a wholly owned subsidiary of corporations.

(and if we’re lucky, congress is owned only by US corporations.)

Wickedsmack (profile) says:


I read a lot of tech blogs like this and I can’t help feeling a little discouraged how incredibly backwards this all is. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to be the CEO of AT&T and completely 180. It just seems reasonable to me that if you offer a superior product (in terms of speed, reliablity, and price) that it would be easy to soak up customers looking for exactly that. Just think if the billions in subsidies AT&T received was actually used for infrastucture build out there would be a very real possiblity of 100Mbps for like 20 bucks. It seems backwards to me to not offer a product people would flock too and dominate the market that way instead of artificially raising prices in areas with no competition. I get it its a dog eat dog world and they have to squeeze as much out of the customers as they can to appease their share holders and board of directors. But it would seem to me, a long term play like superior infrastructure, excellent speed, nationwide availibity at a reasonable price would be even more lucrative than boning areas that don’t really ahve a choice in provider. I refuse to believe this is naive on my part because this is totally doable.

TDR says:

Re: Sometimes

What you say makes sense, but never underestimate the power of the Greed. It blinds and chokes everything it touches and stifles any shred of humanity until all that is left is the withered husk of a Ferengi in human skin counting every last strip of latinum (or in our case, every last cent) while never being satisfied, because in a heart like that, there is never enough money to be had and never fast enough. And to the Greed, fast easy money is all that matters.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Sometimes

I’ve been reading quite a few dudes that, like me, think that the stock market is poisoning progress and innovation because it values short-term profits way too much over long-term ones even if these immediate profits end up costing the company much more in the future. I recently read that Dell went backwards and actually CLOSED its capital and it actually helped the company take bolder steps that are pointing at much better resilience in the long term.

Wall Street and the likes are a cancer. No wonder it attracts all sorts of psychopaths.

Anonymous Coward says:

“…it hasn’t been entirely clear where AT&T as a company ends and the nation’s intelligence services begin…” and so it seems there may be an element of truth to Stephenson’s statment, “It is silliness to say there’s some kind of conspiracy between the U.S. government and AT&T,…” in that how can there be a conspiracy “between” them, when they, in fact, ARE them.

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