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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

AT&T deals with its surveillance 'problem.'

NSA: Bringing 1984 right to you!One of the items that's been sitting in my blogging queue, waiting for me to have time to write up a post, is this report in Wired, involving communications giant AT&T and the US National Security Agency. According to a federal class-action lawsuit filed in by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T has allegedly been giving the NSA full access to its customers' internet and telephone communications, and providing access to its extensive database of caller information. All of this, the EFF suit contends, is in direct violation of federal privacy laws and the rules set up by Congress to govern domestic surveillance programs.

Last week, EFF filed documents supporting its request for a preliminary injunction that would bar AT&T from continuing its alleged surveillance activities. EFF says that three of these are internal AT&T documents that explain how the surveillance system works. In a counter-move this week — and this is the part I'd having trouble making up if it wasn't true — AT&T has asked the court to make EFF give the documents back and not refer to them further in its lawsuit. Lovely, huh?

When you understand exactly what AT&T is supposed to be doing, you can see exactly why the communications giant is wanting to get those internal documents out of consideration by the court. In that same EFF filing last week, there was a sworn statement about the surveillance from former AT&T technician Mark Klein. While that statement is under seal, Klein's attorney released a separate statement in which Klein tells he became aware that his employer was doing something out of line:

In 2002, when I was working in an AT&T office in San Francisco, the site manager told me to expect a visit from a National Security Agency agent, who was to interview a management-level technician for a special job. The agent came, and by chance I met him and directed him to the appropriate people.

In January 2003, I, along with others, toured the AT&T central office on Folsom Street in San Francisco -- actually three floors of an SBC building. There I saw a new room being built adjacent to the 4ESS switch room where the public's phone calls are routed. I learned that the person whom the NSA interviewed for the secret job was the person working to install equipment in this room. The regular technician work force was not allowed in the room.

In October 2003, the company transferred me to the San Francisco building to oversee the Worldnet Internet room, which included large routers, racks of modems for customers' dial-in services, and other equipment. I was responsible for troubleshooting problems on the fiber optic circuits and installing new circuits.

While doing my job, I learned that fiber optic cables from the secret room were tapping into the Worldnet circuits by splitting off a portion of the light signal. I saw this in a design document available to me.... I also saw [other] design documents ... which instructed technicians on connecting some of the already in-service circuits to the "splitter" cabinet, which diverts some of the light signal to the secret room. The circuits listed ... connect Worldnet with other networks and hence the whole country, as well as the rest of the world.

One of the documents listed the equipment installed in the secret room, and this list included a Narus STA 6400, which is a "Semantic Traffic Analyzer". The Narus STA technology is known to be used particularly by government intelligence agencies because of its ability to sift through large amounts of data looking for preprogrammed targets....

My job required me to connect new circuits to the "splitter" cabinet and get them up and running. While working on a particularly difficult one with a technician back East, I learned that other such "splitter" cabinets were being installed in other cities, including Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Based on my understanding of the connections and equipment at issue, it appears the NSA is capable of conducting what amounts to vacuum-cleaner surveillance of all the data crossing the internet -- whether that be peoples' e-mail, web surfing or any other data.

The final paragraph of Klein's statement goes right to the heart of the matter what's at stake in whether EFF is able to keep the AT&T documents and, ultimately, to succeed in stopping the surveillance activities that it alleges are going on in AT&T facilities:
Despite what we are hearing, and considering the public track record of this administration, I simply do not believe their claims that the NSA's spying program is really limited to foreign communications or is otherwise consistent with the NSA's charter or with FISA. And unlike the controversy over targeted wiretaps of individuals' phone calls, this potential spying appears to be applied wholesale to all sorts of internet communications of countless citizens.

Given all of this, if I were AT&T I'd be doing my damndest to get those documents out of EFF's hands [and the federal court's hands, too]. After all, keeping 'troublesome' information out of public view is way easier than quitting an unethical and illegal activity, isn't it?

| | Posted by Magpie at 7:42 AM | Get permalink




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