Feeds

Telcos wish to deny mass snooping

'Compassionate totalitarianism' proves tricky for the private sector

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Security for virtualized datacentres

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.

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Next page: Related stories

More from The Register

next story
Bono apologises for iTunes album dump
Megalomania, generosity and FEAR of irrelevance drove group to Apple deal
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
Doctor Who's Flatline: Cool monsters, yes, but utterly limp subplots
We know what the Doctor does, stop going on about it already
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
'Cowardly, venomous trolls' threatened with TWO-YEAR sentences for menacing posts
UK government: 'Taking a stand against a baying cyber-mob'
Arab States make play for greater government control of the internet
Nerds told to get lost in last-minute power grab bid at UN meeting
Zippy one-liners, broken promises: Doctor Who on the Orient Express
Series finally hits stride, but Clara's U-turn is baffling
Don't bother telling people if you lose their data, say Euro bods
You read that right – with the proviso that it's encrypted
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.