Pressure Mounts Against Telcos To 'Fess Up About Their Involvement In NSA Surveillance

from the open-up dept

Ever since the Snowden leaks began, there's been a clear dichotomy in terms of how different industries have reacted. The various big internet companies, which were named early on as participants in the PRISM program, have been quite vocal (sometimes to profane levels) that they were not willing participants in most of these programs, and are currently involved in an important lawsuit arguing that they have a First Amendment right to reveal how much info they actually share with the government. While those eventual revelations (and they almost certainly will come out, either legally or through leaks) may reveal certain companies were more complicit than others, by all indications, the various internet companies have been very willing to fight the government over this.

On the other side, you've got the telcos -- mainly AT&T and Verizon (but Sprint and some others as well). What do you have there? Total, deafening silence. Seriously. They've said nothing about any of this, despite increasing evidence that they not only are happy and willing participants in the NSA's efforts to spy on everyone, but that they've volunteered to hand over more data than required. Furthermore, it's quite clear now that they've basically let the NSA put taps directly on the internet backbone, by which they can record just about anything, while the internet companies have (from all appearances to date) limited information sharing only to a specific segment of information following a specific court order (which probably doesn't have enough oversight, but that's a different issue).

The contrast here is really striking. From all revealed info to date, the telcos' info sharing with the government is much more massive and has significantly more privacy implications than anything done by the internet companies. And yet it's the internet companies that are both speaking out against this and challenging some of it legally (though some of us still think they should go further -- but, thankfully, we've been hearing significant and credible buzz that much more is on the way). The telcos? Absolutely nothing. Well, except for a Verizon VP mocking the internet companies for pushing for transparency.

Otherwise? Dead silence.

When the internet companies reached out to the telcos about co-signing their letter to the government pushing for more surveillance, the telcos refused. Over the last few months, we've seen pretty much every major internet company release a transparency report, including showing at least some data on government requests for info. The telcos have never released such a thing.

Kevin Bankston, who was instrumental in helping to coordinate that original letter, is now calling out the telcos on their shameful silence. It seems that the telcos are hoping this whole thing blows over, in part because a true transparency report from them would likely reveal just how complicit the telcos were in handing over your private info to governments, often with little to no oversight. In fact, Bankston notes that AT&T has been quietly lobbying against legislative efforts to increase transparency.

What are the telcos afraid of? The answer is pretty obvious.

However, they might not be able to wait this out and hide forever. The ACLU of Northern California has now filed a shareholder proposal with both At&T and Verizon demanding that they file a transparency report concerning their cooperation with government surveillance.
Customer trust is critical for any business, but especially for Internet and telecommunications companies that gather personal data concerning and affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. and around the world. In an effort to help rebuild consumer trust, major Internet companies including Google, Microsoft, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Yahoo! have issued transparency reports with information on government requests; AT&T and Verizon have not. Companies, including Google and Microsoft, have also filed in court seeking authorization to disclose further information to the public; AT&T and Verizon have not.

Privacy is fundamental to democracy and free expression -- and transparency is essential if individuals and businesses are to make informed decisions regarding their personal information. AT&T and Verizon must comply with legal obligations imposed by the Patriot Act and other laws. But these companies have no good excuse for staying silent and failing to provide information about how often customer information is being shared with the government. To the contrary, staying silent as other industry leaders release transparency reports and take steps to reinforce a genuine commitment to privacy, makes it appear that these companies have something to hide and presents serious financial and reputational risks. Consumers prefer companies whose information practices they know and can trust. It is already estimated that the risks of surveillance and lack of trust could cost the U.S cloud computing industry $21 billion to $35 billion in foreign business over the next three years. The Chief Privacy Officers at AT&T and Verizon have praised transparency as a goal, but it is time to back up those statements with action by releasing transparency reports.

Of course, thanks to other bad government policies, AT&T and Verizon have market dominant positions, such that there's often no actual customer choice -- which is part of why they can get away with this silence. Hopefully shareholders of both companies will stand up and make those companies reveal some basic transparency, even if it will embarrass the two companies. And, if they're really embarrassed by what the data will show, perhaps that's a sign that they shouldn't be doing it in the first place.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Guardian, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 11:42am

    MEANWHILE back in canada...

    retards are back at trying to make legal spying happen

    also got any network tools on your pc , encrypt your data

    each now will be 5 years in jail
    ----
    ya know its one thing to post some idiots pics online without permission its another to make use of the internet by everyone illegal and punishable by a gajillion years in prison

    way its going me thinks petermackay will be shot by end of the week

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 11:49am

    In case anyone is interested. AT&T is selling for about 35 per share right now, 50 for Verizon. Yeah, they are douchey telco companies. But they're being douchey on your behalf.

     

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  3. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 11:57am

    Mike's usual distancing for "the internet companies".

    "various big internet companies, which were named early on" -- But NOT here lately, so I'll remind:
    “The program, code-named PRISM, has not been made public until now. It may be the first of its kind. The NSA prides itself on stealing secrets and breaking codes, and it is accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers. But there has never been a Google or Facebook before, and it is unlikely that there are richer troves of valuable intelligence than the ones in Silicon Valley.

    Equally unusual is the way the NSA extracts what it wants, according to the document: Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/us-intelligence-mining-data-from-nine-us-interne t-companies-in-broad-secret-program/2013/06/06/3a0c0da8-cebf-11e2-8845-d970ccb04497_story.html

    And Mike's usual assertion that corporations have "First Amendment right". -- No, corporations DON'T! They're legal fictions created by lawyers so that The Rich can escape personal responsibilty while committing crimes and getting money, and are only given permission to exist by We The People so long as serve OUR purposes, Mike Romney. You and Mitt are the only ones foolish enough to keep insisting that corporations are "persons".

    Edward Snowden: Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, and the rest of our internet titans must ask themselves why they aren't fighting for our interests the same way -- Ed, those soul-less amoral entities care only about the billions they get BEING snoops!

    07:56:01[i-137-1] [ This suppresses the kids from fraud of using my screen name. As done just today.]

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 12:04pm

    What's that you say?

    We have government-sanctioned monopolies sticking up for the government? You don't say!

     

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  5.  
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    Prajo Etach, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 12:10pm

    Anyone have any idea if there are any US carriers who don't give their customer info to the government? Maybe those pay-by-the-month ones like Tracfone or whatever. Thanks!

     

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  6.  
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    Jay (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 12:33pm

    Not quite right...

    Okay, so let's think about the past 30 or 40 years... The telcos have been consolidating to remain the dominant market holders even though they've been broken up thanks to everything before the Carter administration.

    What does this surveillance give them?

    That's what I have to think about. This surveillance ensures that they have a government monopoly that serves their purposes. They can impede on competition such as local internet access which I'm sure is what happened in Wisconson with their local internet.

    So where would I look? I'd have to see if there's any collusion occurring between the CEOs and government through corruption laundering. I may just look into this in the near future given how the incentives are matching up to basically protect AT&T and Verizon mainly.

    With their connections to the government that have occurred since the 80s, it's hard to ignore that the laws have indeed been changed to protect the companies such as requiring every cell phone to be bought with a driver's license and ID.

    So honestly... Who are the laws currently protecting? The public, or the telcos?

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 12:36pm

    the telcos have done whatever the NSA etc have asked/told them to do, with, i bet, the minimum, if any at all, resistance! as soon as the agencies use the 'Threat to National Security' or the 'we will sue you, if you dont and sue you if you do, then tell anyone' options, the telcos have caved. the fault here lies with both sides. the agencies for lying through their teeth over the 'threat to National Security' and the telcos lawyers for not instructing the telcos to fight plus the heads of the telcos for caving. on top, i wouldn't mind betting, that the telco top boys and the agencies top boys 'traveled in similar circles, with similar acquaintances, thereby keeping everything on a nice friendly footing! and fuck the customers yet again!!

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 12:37pm

    They need to realize this one will not die down until there is no more abuse.

     

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  9.  
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    Rapnel (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 12:38pm

    Re:

    The word on the street is any telco that refuses gets put down.

     

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  10.  
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    Rapnel (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 12:47pm

    US telcos == US surveillance

    The telcos are big brother.

    Oh yes they are.

     

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  11.  
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    velox (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 1:33pm

    Re:

    "the fault here lies with... the telcos lawyers for not instructing the telcos to fight plus the heads of the telcos for caving..."
    I think you're misunderstanding what is happening.
    Fight vs. Cave is not the question.
    They have no interest whatsoever in fighting the government's requests for your data. The question for the telcos has always been how to sell your data, and the only function that their lawyers have had is how to ensure that such sales are accomplished without incurring legal liability.

    The telcos are in the business of selling American citizens' private data to the government. Therefore saying, as Mike did, that they "volunteered" your data to the NSA is kind of like saying they 'volunteer' to sell you phone or internet service. Your data is a marketable product and the various federal 3-letter agencies, as well as state and local LEO's are their enthusiastic customers -- spending your own tax dollars to surveil you.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 2:12pm

    the reason why is obvious

    It all comes down to who the customer is. The telco customer base is limited to the American population and the chance of US gov't contracts. Upsetting the Germans, Brits, French, etc? Who cares?

    The customer base for the internet companies is unlimited and unrestricted by geography. Their international reputation actually matters.

     

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  13.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 2:36pm

    Re: the reason why is obvious

    It has nothing to do with who the customer is. US citizens are upset that the telcos are spying on them as well.

    It has everything to do with the fact that the telecom industry is very heavily regulated, and the telcos need to stay on the good side of the US government.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 2:50pm

    Of course, thanks to other bad government policies, AT& T and Verizon have market dominant positions, such that there's often no actual customer choice -- which is part of why they can get away with this silence.
    So, the government's abysmal laws let a couple of communications companies gain monopoly control, and then those companies let the government install all sorts of wiretapping so they can spy on everyone? Nice mutually beneficial relationship they've got there.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 4:49pm

    http://www.instructables.com/id/Make-your-own-cellphone-from-scratch/?ALLSTEPS

    There are instructions on how to build your own cellphone from scratch, can we have an Instructable teaching how to make telecommunication tower? please? pretty please?

    Doesn't matter if I can only contact the next room in the beginning we should start somewhere.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 6:21pm

    Re: Re:

    That's not quite true, there are a lot of little companies out there like WISPs. The problem is that with Tier 1 companies co-operating like Level3, Cogent, Hurricane Electric, it really wouldn't matter. TechDirt link.

    The most notable ISP to push back would probably be XMission. Second would probably be Google, since they at least made some efforts after discovery.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Stevo, Nov 23rd, 2013 @ 11:09am

    Typo

    "When the internet companies reached out to the telcos about co-signing their letter to the government pushing for more surveillance, the telcos refused."

    Looks like 'surveillance' in the above was intended to be 'transparency'.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 24th, 2013 @ 8:24pm

    Your right. I'm pretty sure all the cellphone telcos are cashing in on NSA spying "favors". All these spy telcos have the US market completely locked down.

     

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


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