Last month I wrote about a story I’ve been following: the case of domestic spying on major American data carriers. At the time, using information available online as well as several news sources, I put forth some speculation.
First, that innocent Americans’ data is being swept up and stored thanks to the use of the “full pipe” data gathering technique. Second, that the government’s Total Information Awareness Program – which was “killed” but never defunded – was being used to build domestic spying facilities around the country.
I caught PBS’s NOW program last Friday by chance, and I’m glad I did. They have resources not available to this lowly blogger. What PBS discovered will chill your bones. Yes, data on innocent Americans is being intercepted and stored. Additionally, more whistleblowers have come forward to establish the existence of another secret spy room on AT&T’s network, built post 9-11.
They key findings in PBS’s report:
– The government is intercepting most emails sent domestically.
– AT&T is collecting most emails and sharing them with the government, specifically the NSA (this is backed up by Klein’s documents).
– The NSA spy room at AT&T’s San Francisco facility is only accessible to the NSA and AT&T employees cleared by the NSA
– The NSA’s interest seems to be in MAE WEST, *the* major hub of American and international internet traffic on the West Coast
– The device installed in San Francisco is capable of intercepting 10 GIGBYTES of data per second. In layman’s terms, that means it could go through all the information in all the books in the Library of Congress in 15 minutes.
AT&T declined to be interviewed for this PBS report.
The government claims that they are doing this for national security reasons, but if that is the case, then why are people who aren’t committing terrorism-related crimes being caught up in this net? Another revelation from the PBS report concerns the case of Enzyte owner Steve Warshack. Warshack is currently under indictment for fraud and false advertising related to the Enzyte product. What’s disturbing is that the government’s case was built using old emails obtained without a warrant and sent by Warshack on Yahoo’s email service. Warshack’s lawyer is fighting the case based on an argument that emails are protected by the right to privacy contained in the 4th Amendment.
The government, on the other hand, treats emails “like a postcard”. In the Warshack case, they argued that an ISP’s employees have the ability to read your email, therefore email is not private, protected communications. As someone who’s worked in the ISP industry for a decade now, let me say that is total crap. Yes, we do have the ability to read your email, but we do not do it. In fact, the very first security provision I was ever trained on as a support tech was that under no circumstances were we to read customer email. The most that we were allowed to view was the email headers, and only when we were troubleshooting an issue for the customer. I have worked with hundreds of people in this industry, and I assert with confidence that not one of them ever violated the privacy of our customers. We just don’t do it. It’s offensive that the government is using employees like me – who operate with very high ethical standards – to excuse their snooping into your private communications.
The Warshack case is still ongoing, but clearly there are some concerns here that tie into the domestic spying program. What does Warshacks’s case have to do with national security? Why was the government able to obtain his old emails without a warrant?
The PBS report also mentions that Congress is considering a law mandating that email providers store all of your email indefinitely. I don’t think it’s going anywhere. There’s no way that’s going to happen without billions of dollars in federal subsidies, because the industry just doesn’t have the capitol neccessary to make that kind of investment.
“We’re not mining, or trolling, through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.” – GWB, 5/11/2006
Also included in the PBS report was the revelation (earlier reported in Salon) that more AT&T whistleblowers have come forward. They’ve provided evidence that AT&T’s St. Louis facility also had a secret NSA room installed after 9-11. This room is only accessible to the NSA (or employees cleared by NSA, much like the SanFran room) and employs biometric security. Bottom line is that AT&T is looking more and more complicit in the degradation of our civil liberties post 9-11.
Ryan Singel, a journalist who’s spent a lot of time covering this story, answered a few questions for PSB. You can read the entire interview here, but here’s the part that’s relevant to the current case status:
NOW: What other cases are out there with respect to wiretapping?
Singel: There’s been a large number of lawsuits that have been filed besides the EFF lawsuit against AT&T. There’s been more than 50 lawsuits filed against the government directly and against other telecoms and ISPs. As a judicial process, what they’ve done is consolidated all of those lawsuits with a single judge, which is the judge in San Francisco who’s been handling the AT&T case.
NOW: Where do things stand with the EFF’s lawsuit against AT&T?
Singel: Currently the decision is that the lawsuit can go on to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. A three judge panel has said they are going to hear that appeal. So that should happen in the coming months. But neither the government nor AT&T or EFF have filed with the court yet. In the meantime, the judge in San Francisco is trying to find ways to let the case go on. He seems to be very interested in having as much of the case go forward as he can. Currently he’s trying to decide if that same ruling-that state secrets don’t apply to the other suits against Verizon, Bell South, Sprint and MCI-whether those suits also can go forward despite the government’s belief that they involve state secrets.
You can watch the entire NOW program online – I’d strongly advise doing so. I’d embed it, but GooTube is going down the drain and I refuse to use their “service” anymore. So, click this link and go watch the program. You’ll be glad you did.
Update I: Title amended as suggested in comments from original by Boadicea
Update II: Link added to Big Brother I by kp.