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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Filed Under: nsa surveillance, privacy, surveillance, telcos, transparency

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  1. identicon
    John Thacker, 19 Jul 2013 @ 12:54pm


    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?"

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