from the police-state dept
As a bunch of folks have been sending in, Buzzfeed has the incredible story from the CEO of independent ISP XMission, Pete Ashdown (who, by the way, has also run for Senator in Utah, and has a really good take on copyright law), talking about what happened when the NSA knocked on his door. Ashdown talks about how the company deals with various law enforcement warrants it gets, and how what they get from the FISA court is different, because, as he notes, “I have a hard time with secret courts.” However, the time they got one — with an order to monitor one single customer — his lawyers told him they couldn’t fight back, and the NSA said that they needed to install their own box on his network.
It was also different [from other warrants] because it was for monitoring. They wanted to come in and put in equipment on my network to monitor a single customer. The customer they were monitoring was a particular website that was very benign. It seems ridiculous to me. It was beyond absurd. It wasn’t like a guns and ammo website.
They came in and showed me papers. It was a court order from the FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) for the intercept, with the agent’s name… and the court’s information. I think it was three or four pages of text. They wouldn’t let met me copy them. They let me take notes in regards to technical aspects of what they wanted to do.
We had to facilitate them to set up a duplicate port to tap in to monitor that customer’s traffic. It was a 2U (two-unit) PC that we ran a mirrored ethernet port to.
[What we ended up with was] a little box in our systems room that was capturing all the traffic to this customer. Everything they were sending and receiving.
He talks about employees asking about it, and him not really being able to tell them. He also notes that the whole thing was totally open-ended, with the NSA never saying when the monitoring would end. He also notes that there’s more he could tell, but it would likely violate the gag order (in fact, he wonders if what he wrote for Buzzfeed violates the gag order already). Ashdown, then, rightly points out just how ridiculous this gag order is:
These programs that violate the Bill of Rights can continue because people can’t go out and say, “This is my experience, this is what happened to me, and I don’t think it is right.”
There is absolutely [a] need for secrecy when you are dealing with a criminal investigation. You don’t want to tip off criminals being monitored. But you can’t say, “You can never talk about this ever, for the rest of your life.”
The FISA court should be a public court, and documents should be sealed for a set period of time, [to] let people audit the actions later.
He notes that this particular monitoring experience ended about two years ago, and he wonders if he’ll hear from them for talking about the experience, but he’s willing to face up to that. Of course, there are very, very few ISP owners who are willing to stand up and talk like this. Beyond Ashdown, the short list includes Nicholas Merrill and I’m not sure who else. If more internet companies were willing to speak up, it would help bring more clarity to what’s going on, even if they faced some significant backlash in doing so.
Also, wouldn’t it have been really nice if Ashdown had won his Senate race last time around and been in the Senate right now instead of Orrin Hatch. While all these surveillance stories have been going down, what has Hatch been up to, other than trying to give his friends in Hollywood more power to negotiate trade agreements that benefit themselves?