Feeds

Telcos wish to deny mass snooping

'Compassionate totalitarianism' proves tricky for the private sector

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

BellSouth has demanded that USA Today must retract its story fingering the telco in the Bush Administration's mass domestic dragnet of phone records.

"BellSouth insists that your newspaper retract the false and unsubstantiated statements you have made regarding our company," the company demanded in a letter to USA Today president Craig Moon.

Previously, following last week's USA Today exposé, BellSouth had issued a statement claiming that it does not have a contract to supply the NSA with call records.

"Based on our review to date, we have confirmed no such contract exists, and we have not provided bulk customer calling records to the NSA," the statement said.

Notice that the statement did not say BellSouth had not supplied any call records to the NSA. If it had, perhaps the retraction would already be in print.

But the statement is crafted to be letter-of-the-law accurate, even if there should be an informal agreement rather than a contract, or if something other than "bulk customer calling records" have been handed over, such as "pretty big piles of customer calling records". It could also mean that a BellSouth billing contractor or other partner has supplied the information.

Meanwhile, Verizon has said that it "does not provide any government agency unfettered access to our customer records or provide information to the government under circumstances that would allow a fishing expedition".

Another nice bit of Legalese. This could mean that almost anything is going on. Not providing "unfettered access" might mean that Verizon simply delivers the records to NSA, rather than letting them set up camp on its premises, as AT&T has been accused of doing. Also, as with the BellSouth statement, the wording leaves open the possibility that a contractor is delivering the data.

And as for not allowing a "fishing expedition", one suspects this means absolutely nothing, but the lawyers thought it had a reassuring sound and decided to include it.

Since the NSA is supposedly using only bulk call data indicating patterns - that is, which nameless phone numbers are calling and receiving calls from each other - Verizon could give the agency everything it's seeking, and this would not constitute a "fishing expedition". It would be up to the NSA to plumb other databases to attach names and addresses to the numbers, and then conduct an actual fishing expedition. So don't blame Verizon if that should happen; they've got nothing to do with it.

Furthermore, both companies have said they "cannot confirm or deny" that they've got a relationship with the NSA. Now, trust a journo on this one: in the commercial world, and in the political world, whenever a flack can deny something that might be bad for trade, share values, or winning the election, they always deny it. "I cannot confirm or deny" always means, "I cannot deny". There are no exceptions to this rule outside the realm of legal constraints against commenting in any way (gag orders, etc).

Thus, if BellSouth and Verizon "cannot confirm or deny" NSA snooping in the literal sense of, "we're legally constrained from commenting", then bingo, they've got a relationship with the NSA. If they had no relationship, there would be no constraint, and they would deny the allegations as loudly as possible, as Qwest has done.

When they do that, they'll get their retractions.

HP ProLiant Gen8: Integrated lifecycle automation

Next page: Related stories

More from The Register

next story
BBC goes offline in MASSIVE COCKUP: Stephen Fry partly muzzled
Auntie tight-lipped as major outage rolls on
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
White? Male? You work in tech? Let us guess ... Twitter? We KNEW it!
Grim diversity numbers dumped alongside Facebook earnings
Bose says today is F*** With Dre Day: Beats sued in patent battle
Music gear giant seeks some of that sweet, sweet Apple pie
Amazon Reveals One Weird Trick: A Loss On Almost $20bn In Sales
Investors really hate it: Share price plunge as growth SLOWS in key AWS division
There's NOTHING on TV in Europe – American video DOMINATES
Even France's mega subsidies don't stop US content onslaught
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
Too many IT conferences to cover? MICROSOFT to the RESCUE!
Yet more word of cuts emerges from Redmond
Chips are down at Broadcom: Thousands of workers laid off
Cellphone baseband device biz shuttered
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.