by Tim Cushing

Filed Under:
database, nsa, phone

chertoff group

'Trusted Third Party' Neustar Pays Chertoff Group To Talk FCC Out Of Handing Control Of Crucial Cell Phone Database To Foreign Company

from the don't-put-half-your-eggs-in-one-basket dept

Thanks to some financial prompting and aligned priorities, the Chertoff Group (home of former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and former NSA boss Michael Hayden) is sending a letter [pdf link] to the FCC in hopes of preventing control of a crucial cellphone number database from ending up in the hands of a foreign company.

Neustar's lobbying effort to stop a key federal number-portability contract from slipping away to Ericsson's Telcordia unit took another turn via a report sent to the FCC from Michael Chertoff, a former secretary of homeland security. The report, from Chertoff's security consulting firm, the Chertoff Group, concluded that the bidding terms for the contract related to national security were "insufficient in both scope and specificity when compared with widely accepted national and international standards."
While the long report goes into detail about certain potential security deficiencies, the real issue is the fact that putting this information in the hands of a foreign company might move it slightly more out of reach of law enforcement and national security agencies.
The FBI and other law-enforcement agencies said that although they had "no position" on which firm should get the contract, they wanted to air their concerns, especially that there would be no disruption in access to call-routing data "in real time or near real time."

"Law enforcement cannot afford to have a lapse in this vital service," the agencies told the FCC in a letter.
Neustar, one of the "trusted third parties" the government relies on to collect and deliver data from telcos as requested by subpoenas, warrants or even FISA court orders, is lobbying hard to maintain control of its local-number portability administrator (LNPA) position. Losing this contract would do some serious damage to the company.
The LNPA contract accounted for 60 percent, 50 percent and 49 percent of Neustar's revenue in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively, according to an annual filing at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Neustar has held the contract since 1997.
Since it can't afford to lose this contract, it can't afford to keep its lobbying efforts hidden.
Neustar did not say how much it paid Chertoff to write the report, indicating only that it was a "modest sum," according to the New York Times.
The Chertoff report does point out some security issues, it's really just stumping for the home team. It's not so much about hackers or foreign entities gaining access as it is about a host of government agencies losing access. Chertoff is closely tied to national security agencies, none of which would welcome any new speed bumps being placed between them and a cellphone database they access over 4 million times a year.

Telcordia, the "foreign" company that may end up with the contract, is already promising big savings and uninterrupted law enforcement access. It's also playing up the USA! USA! angle in hopes of gaining control of the database.
Telcordia has said the software code used for the system will be entirely domestic. "We are not using any of the code used and deployed in foreign installations at all, zero," Iconectiv CTO Chris Drake told the Post last month.
No dirty foreign code here. Just ones and zeroes from good, honest Americans like yourselves. Unconfirmed reports allege this statement was delivered by Drake while wearing a cowboy hat, against a backdrop of American flags.

The NSA (and other agencies) love "domestic" code. It makes for the best backdoors. Telcordia's statements appear to address any law enforcement concerns about accessibility, as well as the security implications raised by Chertoff's impa$$ioned plea on behalf of Neustar. No hurdles here. Just more business as usual.

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