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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Filed Under: encryption, nsa, randall stephenson, surveillance
Companies: apple, at&t

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