Feeds

Telcos wish to deny mass snooping

'Compassionate totalitarianism' proves tricky for the private sector

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Build a business case: developing custom apps

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.

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

Next page: Related stories

More from The Register

next story
Kate Bush: Don't make me HAVE CONTACT with your iPHONE
Can't face sea of wobbling fondle implements. What happened to lighters, eh?
Video of US journalist 'beheading' pulled from social media
Yanked footage featured British-accented attacker and US journo James Foley
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
Ballmer leaves Microsoft board to spend more time with his b-balls
From Clippy to Clippers: Hi, I see you're running an NBA team now ...
Online tat bazaar eBay coughs to YET ANOTHER outage
Web-based flea market struck dumb by size and scale of fail
Amazon takes swipe at PayPal, Square with card reader for mobes
Etailer plans to undercut rivals with low transaction fee offer
Assange™: Hey world, I'M STILL HERE, ignore that Snowden guy
Press conference: ME ME ME ME ME ME ME (cont'd pg 94)
Call of Duty daddy considers launching own movie studio
Activision Blizzard might like quality control of a CoD film
US regulators OK sale of IBM's x86 server biz to Lenovo
Now all that remains is for gov't offices to ban the boxes
prev story

Whitepapers

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.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.