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Wiretaps, no-fly lists, and suing AT&T

Eavesdropping is an art form

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Computers, Freedom and Privacy "What are you doing these days?"

"Suing AT&T."

Ah, eavesdropping.

Day three of the ACM Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference.

The above speaker is Lee Tien, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. His lawsuit ("Hepting") is more complex than the others brought over the Terrorist Screening Program in that it includes the telcos, and more technical because it includes evidence from a whistleblowing retired employee.

Tien has a great map of the wiretapping suits against AT&T in the US. There were only a few dots scattered east to west before USA Today published the news that the government, AT&T, Verizon, and Bell South were wiretapping US citizens. The map broke out in chicken pox a few weeks later. Today, there are just two spots.

And Tien is upbeat.

He needs to be. Most of "suing AT&T" is waiting. And waiting some more.

And now for a word from our sponsor: you have until 8 May to register your comments on the US Real ID card. Go here for details how.

In fact, it has become much, much easier for states to wiretap undetectably. Matt Blaze and George Danezis used the Greek wiretapping scandal as a case study in what can go wrong, based on the work of Vassilis Prevelakis and Diomidis Spinellis.

The public image of wiretapping is the man in a black van plugging a headset into a box full of wires. The US's market size and vendor dominance means that CALEA, which requires a wiretapping interface in telecommunications equipment, has been exported to the rest of the world. US vendors build to US law. Foreign vendors who want access to US markets also build to US law. Foreign governments help their nation's businesses by choosing the same standards the US has already dictated.

A security hole is a security hole is a security hole. The Greek attackers depended on tried and trusted techniques, including programming in a proprietary Ericsson language so obscure that no one can find a manual for it online. What eventually exposed them was their one bit of creative engineering. But it was, noted Blaze, a "relatively low-tech attack against a high-tech system". Cost: probably $50,000 to $100,000. Be the envy of other minor organisations.

If there's one thing this crowd would probably like to wiretap it's the decision-making process for populating (and depopulating) the no-fly and terrorist watch lists.

Lyn Rahilly, privacy officer for the Terrorist Screening Center, and Tim Edgar, deputy civil liberties protection officer from the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence, explained that you can get off the no-fly list. If you were ever on it, and it doesn't mean you're an (alleged) terrorist, and anyway we can't confirm. Or deny.

But who needs wiretaps when you have Google? ®

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