Why AT&T's 'Willingness' To Help NSA Is Alarming - InformationWeek

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8/17/2015
12:05 PM
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Why AT&T's 'Willingness' To Help NSA Is Alarming

Snowden documents show AT&T was all too happy to aid the NSA spy on Americans. Are we really that surprised?

14 Security Fails That Cost Executives Their Jobs
14 Security Fails That Cost Executives Their Jobs
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The NSA would have had a much more difficult time spying on Americans were it not for the comfortable, chummy partnership the government forged with AT&T, say new documents released by Edward Snowden.

AT&T worked closely with the government and ensured the agency had access to emails and call records for a period spanning decades.

Snowden's bombshell revelations exploded two years ago. The shock and awe campaign is over. Since then, a trickle of information continues to flow like lava -- slowly, but still searingly hot -- with new and unsettling revelations. The latest comes from the New York Times, which was privy to more documents shared by Snowden.

This time, Snowden detailed the nature of the relationship between the NSA and one of its top partners: AT&T.

In an incredible bit of irony, the NSA's largest domestic spying program, in action since 1985, is called Fairview. (In hindsight, it doesn't seem all that "fair" to US citizens, does it?)

(Image: Linda Jo Heilman/iStockphoto)

(Image: Linda Jo Heilman/iStockphoto)

The documents suggest AT&T provided the NSA with access to a variety of information, such as billions of emails, as they transited its wired Internet hubs in the United States. AT&T helped the NSA spy on the United Nations, an AT&T customer, thanks to technical assistance in carrying out a secret court order.

A separate program, called Stormbrew, was aided by Verizon and MCI, but the NSA spent twice as much money on Fairview.

Things took a turn after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The documents say AT&T started sending email and phone call data to the NSA "within days" after the Bush Administration began warrantless surveillance in October 2001. Later, in September 2003, AT&T was first to initiate a new data-gathering program that gave the NSA, in effect, a "live" presence on the World Wide Web. By 2011, AT&T was handing over 1.1 billion domestic phone call records on a daily basis. AT&T also made sure the NSA had access to the network traffic of its foreign business partners, which aren't protected by the same privacy laws as US citizens.

That AT&T helped the NSA isn't a surprise.

This is something we've already had time to digest. And, to be fair, AT&T wasn't alone. Other telecommunications providers surely played a role in collecting data in bulk for the government's spy agencies.

[Do you think the US should hold the lead on Internet governance? See ICANN Proposal: Internet With Less US Oversight.]

What's particularly galling here is the nature of the relationship between AT&T and the NSA, as per the documents. One document suggests the relationship was "highly collaborative." Another praised AT&T's "extreme willingness to help." Yet another reminded NSA employees that they should be nice to AT&T because, "this is a partnership, not a contractual relationship."

The NSA shows no lack of creativity in finding ways to gather information. Earlier this year, we learned that five governments colluded to see about infecting smartphones with spyware.

Snowden's latest leak certainly stings, but this particular bite is one with which we've become all too familiar.

Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio

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tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
10/16/2015 | 8:02:33 AM
Re: AT&T has long history of this
The US government is entirely different from the Hitler dictatorship. The NSA and FBI are not the Gestapo. They are targeting terrorist groups and not rounding up ethnic groups for extermination based on the rantings of a single man.

Keeping the country safe is much different than ethnic cleansing and i trust our government to do the right thing. Unlike Hitler or Stalin governments, there are remedies to counter abuse of power.

With regard to gambling, the bookies that were being targeted were tax evaders. That is illegal. Much of the gambling was fixed and sponsored by organized crime which is not non violent. Even two bit bookies are not necessarily non violent either.

You are taking examples and blowing them out of proportion. Smoking weed is illegal in most states regardless of whether it is done on private property. But the government is not going to use drones to track that. Niether are they going to get rid of alcohol. They tried that once before.

The bottom line is that i am all for going after terrorists with every tool we have. They operate outside the law, respect no borders, respect no lives and have a toxic agenda. Sometimes you have to take the gloves off and fight like your life depends on it.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
10/15/2015 | 2:35:30 PM
Re: AT&T has long history of this
You are pretty trusting soul of your government, I hope you are right. Hitler thought he was doing the best thing for Germany, regardless of what it morphed into.

The problem with your idea that anything is fair game to catch "bad guys", not all of us agree what is bad. I don't gamble at all but don't agree gambling should be a crime. Exactly who is the victim in that exercise? Bookies were just trying to make living in a non violent way (versus sticking you up and taking your money).

That's the problem I see with your lack of respect of due process, many things that are "illegal" today shouldn't be in a lot of people's eyes. We can all agree a suicide bomber should be stopped, regardless of his motivation. That's an easy definition of terrorist. What about environmental activists, socialists, atheists, etc? Throw the "terrorist" tag on them and then they are fair game? Hassad calls his opposition in Syria terrorists. You OK with using spy satellites to catch people smoking weed in their backyard? What if government decides alcohol is just too much trouble and now you can't legally drink your favorite beer anymore? Still OK with Big Brother doing whatever the hell they want to catch "criminals"?

That's the problem I have with your position. And of all your posts I've read, probably first time I've ever disagreed with your observations, you are a pretty sharp guy.

One note on your gun comment. Those of you make that comment easily, ignoring the effect of what being legal means to price. If guns were illegal/controlled, sure organized crime could still get them. But the mafia isn't the ones walzing into schools and blowing away kids. Insane, unemployed morons who have been doing this stuff would not be able to afford an arsenal, probably not a single gun. Guns are not easy to smuggle like drugs, black market prices would be astronomical.

And I love the argument owning a gun protects against government turning against the people. Good luck with that when you have a gun and they have a drone. And systems that track your conversations and whereabouts at all times.
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
10/15/2015 | 1:50:18 PM
Re: AT&T has long history of this
The way Snowden presents this it is like the Gestapo or KGB and we are all potential enemies of the State. I don't buy that. I think the FBI and NSA have to improvise in order to catch smart bad guys. It is like drawing up gun laws in the hope that outlaws will not obtain guns. It won't happen. Bookies, which were part of organized crime, ARE bad guys and need to be stopped. Terrorists pose a major threat to this country. Of that there is no doubt. So to me going after them is not bringing back the Gestapo/KGB age. We are not that kind of a country. These agencies are operating not on an ideology like Mein Kampf or Communism, they are trying to protect our country.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
9/21/2015 | 9:37:38 AM
Re: AT&T has long history of this
>>With regard to bringing down bookies, so what?

The point is they (FBI) couldn't play by the rules any better in 1960's than the NSA does now. You don't see the similarity in the approach? Or is your point as long as you are targeting bad guys (by their definition), anything is OK?
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
9/19/2015 | 12:18:19 PM
Re: What I worry about
Sorry but i think Snowden is a traitor. You are making out our government to be like the Gestapo and that is not the case.  He is lucky he landed in Russia, that bastion of freedom, otherwise he would have been imprisoned here and rightfully so.
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
9/19/2015 | 12:14:13 PM
Re: AT&T has long history of this
There are a couple of issues here. The first being that Bell was a monopoly way back when. Yes it was and really it is today, just under a different name. Verizon and ATT are really two of the Baby Bells that were spun off from the original ATT. The current ATT is really Southwest Bell just renamed ATT and Verizon was NYNEX. Essentially they both acquired all the other Baby Bells and small independents until only a duopoly was left.

I am against stealing corporate services no matter regardless of the size of a company.

With regard to bringing down bookies, so what?

We are really in a different era now with digital communications and we have to be careful. THere has to be some way for law enforcement and security agencies to access things  (LEAGALLY of course) otherwise we are going to be in trouble. Frankly i think the government is a lot more into these communications than is let on. For all the hacking we hear the Chinese and Russians are doing to us, you can be sure our abilities are at least as good if not better.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
8/19/2015 | 10:26:50 AM
Re: What I worry about
@mak63   I agree.  Snowden is no hero.  He is a traitor plain and simple.  If he had any courage of his convictions he would not be sitting in Russia right now.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
8/19/2015 | 10:23:18 AM
Re: AT&T has long history of this
"...The most interesting part of book to me was how close Wozniak and Steve Jobs came to getting busted by FBI. They were making some money building and selling black boxes long before Apple was even a gleam in their eye."

 

@TerryB   Thanks for history on AT&T, Wozniak and Jobs. I did not know this.  I will keep an eye out for the book by Lapsley as well.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
8/19/2015 | 10:08:53 AM
Re: What I worry about
"...When you add in the stunning lack of competence of the screeners, it is not surprising that over 90% of test bombs made it through the checkpoints in security tests at airports."

@DanK363   Excellent points.   Alot of "lip service" is given to security but to say the TSA represents our best and brightest is a stretch at best.

Anyone who travels to their destination safely should kiss the ground upon arrival because the "safegaurds" employed are an embarrassment for a Country that claims to be head and shoulders upove the rest.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
8/19/2015 | 9:57:23 AM
Re: What stings even more is...
"..Out of the gazillion AT&T records, how many solid leads did the NSA get to prevent a terorist attack? I don't know if the Snowden papers reveal that, but I guess the number is 0."


This news of AT&T working hand and hand with the NSA is not surprising.   It is extremely disppointing though. It marks the clear demise of the principles of Democracy and Human Rights which the U.S. was supposed to be built upon.

As a skeptic already, this news throws me over the edge.  Big Brother is no longer a paperback novel. It is real. And Companies like AT&T are the lead characters. This the most depressing news I have heard in quite some time.

And in the end, as the quote above by moarsauce123 mentions, did it achieve any thing other than to throw the Constitution in the trash ?

As an AT&T customer, I will have to seriously re-think my association with them and any other "communications" company for that matter.
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