AT&T's Cozy NSA Ties Brought Up In Attempt To Scuttle DirecTV Merger

from the what-repercussions? dept

Before there was Edward Snowden, there was of course the notably less celebrated Mark Klein. As most of you probably recall, Klein, a 22-year AT&T employee, became a whistleblower after he highlighted (pdf) how AT&T was effectively using fiber splits to give the NSA duplicate access to every shred of data that touched AT&T's network. Of course, once it was discovered that AT&T was breaking the law, the government decided to just change the law, ignore Klein's testimony, and give all phone companies retroactive immunity. It really wasn't until Snowden that the majority of the tech press took Klein's warnings seriously.

AT&T's been loyally "patriotic" ever since, often giving the government advice on how to skirt the law or at times even acting as intelligence analysts. Business repercussions for AT&T have been minimal at best; in fact, you'll recall that Qwest (now CenturyLink) claimed repeatedly that government cooperation was rewarded with lucrative contracts, while refusal to participate in government programs was punished. In fact, the only snag AT&T's seen in the years since was to have its European expansion plans thwarted, purportedly by regulators uncomfortable with the carrier's cozy NSA ties (AT&T instead simply expanded into Mexico).

Fast forward a few years and The Hill is now claiming that AT&T's relationship with the NSA could harm the company's $48 billion attempt to acquire DirecTV. This claim is apparently based on the fact that a coalition of AT&T business partners, called the Minority Cellular Partners Coalition, is warning the FCC in a letter (pdf) that AT&T's enthusiastic voluntary cooperation with the NSA shows the company's total disregard for consumer privacy.
"(Despite immunity) the Commission is still obliged to execute and enforce the provisions of § 229 of the Act, see 47 U.S.C. § 151, and it is still empowered to conduct an investigation to insure that AT&T complies with the requirements of CALEA. See id. § 229(c). And the Commission is obliged to determine whether AT&T is qualified to obtain DIRECTV’s licenses in light of its egregious violations of CALEA. This is particularly true given AT&T’s continued and ongoing pattern of misconduct. Accordingly, the Commission should investigate AT&T’s complicity in the PSP to determine whether AT&T engaged in unlawful conduct that abridged the privacy interests of telecommunications consumers on a vast scale and, if so, whether AT&T is qualified to obtain DIRECTV’s licenses."
Of course, that's simply not happening. While the NSA cooperation can be used as a broader example of AT&T's character (like the repeatedly nonsensical claims the company makes when it wants a merger approved, or how AT&T tries to charge its broadband customers extra for no deep packet inspection), it's incredibly unlikely that the same government that granted AT&T's immunity will turn around and sign off on using AT&T's behavior to squash a merger. If the merger is blocked, it will be due to more practical considerations -- like the fact that DirecTV is a direct competitor to AT&T and eliminating them would lessen competition in the pay TV space. When it comes to AT&T's relationship with the NSA, it's pretty clear by now that these particular chickens may never come home to roost.
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Filed Under: merger, nsa, privacy, surveillance
Companies: at&t, directv


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  1. icon
    jlaprise (profile), 11 Mar 2015 @ 10:45am

    History: AT&T and Federal Government

    The ties between AT&T and the intelligence community predate Mark Klein. In a modern sense, they begin with telecommunications security policy from the Ford Administration

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Mar 2015 @ 10:48am

    I'm still waiting for Obama to keep his 2008 campaign promise (repeated many times over) about prosecuting the people at AT&T who broke the law.

    You don't suppose Obama lied, do you?

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

  3. icon
    jlaprise (profile), 11 Mar 2015 @ 10:48am

    Addendum

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

  4. icon
    jlaprise (profile), 11 Mar 2015 @ 10:49am

    Re:

    Congress took that out of his hands when they indemnified the telcos...

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

  5. icon
    Designerfx (profile), 11 Mar 2015 @ 11:11am

    This now explains sling

    No wonder sling.tv moved forward (from directTV). They're probably preventing ATT from eliminating directTV, by creating sling.

    I now see why this has ramped up so fast after the Aereo lawsuit.

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

  6. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 11 Mar 2015 @ 11:13am

    Of course, once it was discovered that AT&T was breaking the law, the government decided to just change the law, ignore Klein's testimony, and give all phone companies retroactive immunity.

    Which, just like retroactive copyright term extension, is blatantly illegal under Article 1, Section 9, Clause 3 of the US Constitution, which says in perfect plainness that Congress shall not pass any ex post facto (retroactive) law.

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

  7. icon
    Karl Bode (profile), 11 Mar 2015 @ 12:02pm

    Re: History: AT&T and Federal Government

    True, I feel like Mark Klein however was truly the beginning of a broader public awareness that we're not talking about tin foil hat conspiracy theory.

    Though even with Klein I remember a ton of people in the technology press not understanding what the big deal was.

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

  8. icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 11 Mar 2015 @ 12:44pm

    Could somebody please put together a mash-up video: Clips from the film version of Nineteen Eighty-Four, mixed with clips from And the company that will bring it to you is AT&T commercials.

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

  9. identicon
    Jarrod, 11 Mar 2015 @ 1:41pm

    Re: This now explains sling

    Sling is a Dish product.

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

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Mar 2015 @ 2:32pm

    Re:

    ...prosecuting the people at AT&T who broke the law...

    No prosecutions? How about asset forfeiture? It's better than nothing!

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

  11. icon
    jlaprise (profile), 11 Mar 2015 @ 3:04pm

    It's worth noting that if the telcos had not received immunity, their liability would likely have bankrupted them all. Every captured record might be judged as an "instance."

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

  12. identicon
    Hans, 11 Mar 2015 @ 9:17pm

    Re:

    "It's worth noting that if the telcos had not received immunity, their liability would likely have bankrupted them all."

    It's hard to conceive of anything better than that to provide a deterrent to future telcos and their executives from breaking the law.

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


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