Thursday, May 11, 2006


Protect Your 4th Amendment Rights and Support Progressive Causes

USA Today has the story of the NSA's full-out assault on the Fourth Amendment.

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY. The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. [...] Customers' names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA's domestic program, the sources said. But the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information.
If you're a customer of AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth, you need to become an ex-customer. I suggest signing up with the one telephone company guaranteed not to help the government destroy our Constitution. Working Assets is "a wireless, long distance, and credit card company created in 1985 to help make the world a better place. Every time customers use our services, a portion of their charges is automatically donated to progressive organizations working for peace, human rights, economic justice, education and the environment — over $50 million generated so far! We also serve as a strong political force, dedicated to giving our customers the opportunity to speak out on public issues through our Web site and monthly bills." Their service is excellent and their rates are competitive. I just called Customer Service, and was told what I expected to hear: they would refuse any request from the NSA, and they don't share equipment or network with the phone companies that are collaborating with the NSA. Besides providing financial support for progressive causes, Working Assets is a member of the Save the Internet coalition. If all that doesn't convince you to switch your phone service to Working Assets, I also confirmed that they still offer a "signing bonus": every month for a year after you sign up, you'll get a coupon for a free pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. (This is an unsolicited, unpaid endorsement.)
Has Working Assets confirmed that they did not participate in this?
They have to MEC -- she called them and they said unequivocally that if the NSA asked them to do so, they would refuse.

Other folks have contacted WA and got similar responses.
Working Assets resells services from the large companies under their own Working Assets brand. Large phone companies such as Sprint are Working Assets underlying network. Working Assets doesn't have fiber optic, cable, copper wire, satellites, dishes, etc. of their own. Working Assets must get the information to bill their customers from the company that actually carried the call on their infrastructure. They take the call records from the large carrier such as Sprint and print them on their own Working Assets bills and provide customer service.

Working Assets is an excellent company and they do wonderful things.

But I believe that Working Assets' underlying carriers would also need to promise that they had not handed over the records to the NSA.

How would Working Assets know that absolutely had not happened?
Anonymous, WALD wouldn't know. All they can vouch for is the integrity of their records.

A major question is exactly how the NSA got this information. One way would be that they got a copy of everyone's phone bill. That contains the call-from/call-to information that USA Today is talking about.

But anyone who has read The Puzzle Palace would doubt that this is what the fuss is about. NSA is widely believed to be intercepting all electronic traffic. Not just phone calls, but FAXes, radio-- even nursery monitors. It all gets swept up.

The question is what happens next? Do they store information, or does most of it pass after noting the information on the envelope (call-from/call-to)? Do they place it on a third party computer (so they can say they aren't storing it? Do they scan the contents for keywords, as almost certainly happens with international calls?

My guess-- and it's purely a guess-- is that they intercept everything, store everything, database all the envelope information...but read only a tiny fraction of the content. It's enough of an infringement of law to scare people in intelligence about where it's headed.

Since all this traffic flows over switches owned by the majors, no call except a Qwest-to-Qwest call that did not happen to transit one of the other company's equipment would have been missed. That would be negligible, and in a defined geographic location.
thx for your comment Charles -
yeah, my earlier question was rhetorical. The major carriers keep their own and their resellers billing/call records for years. Working Assets is a reseller. WALD and their customer service reps can vouch for what they (WALD) does with their records once they are electronically handed over to WALD. But prior to that, those records are in the hands of the underlying carrier (Sprint and maybe others?) and if Sprint has given them over to NSA, it's too late. Though I support Working Assets, I think Phoenix Woman and others would want to know.
We should learn more as Russell Tice and the EFF lawsuit move forward. At this point, I can only speculate on the methods used by NSA, but-- given their history and the character of the Bush Administration-- it's a fair prediction that there is massive overkill and duplication.
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