By now AT&T's total disregard for privacy and wiretap laws in their cooperation with the government's warrantless wiretap program is fairly well established. As numerous NSA and AT&T whistleblowers have illustrated, the company dumps all voice and data from any carrier that touches their network directly into the lap of the NSA
-- with no warrants or transparency and only marginal government oversight. While Verizon and Sprint also did this, AT&T went the extra patriotic mile, even advising the FBI on how to break surveillance law
, even in some cases acting, quite illegally, as intelligence analysts.
The coziness between carriers and government was made very clear when Uncle Sam re-wrote the law
specifically to protect the phone companies from charges they repeatedly and willfully broke it.
With that as background, it's not surprising to see new data from the Electronic Privacy Information Center this week emerge showing that the government promises total immunity to any corporation that helps them spy on U.S. citizens
.Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has now set up a system whereby "2511 letters" make violations of wiretap laws magically disappear:
The Justice Department agreed to grant legal immunity to the participating network providers in the form of what participants in the confidential discussions refer to as "2511 letters," a reference to the Wiretap Act codified at 18 USC 2511 in the federal statute books. The Wiretap Act limits the ability of Internet providers to eavesdrop on network traffic except when monitoring is a "necessary incident" to providing the service or it takes place with a user's "lawful consent." An industry representative told CNET the 2511 letters provided legal immunity to the providers by agreeing not to prosecute for criminal violations of the Wiretap Act. It's not clear how many 2511 letters were issued by the Justice Department.
Needless to say, all of this exists on very shaky ground, and the government will need to re-write the law to ensure none of this rather disgusting behavior (if you respect liberty and privacy or even the rule of law) is challenged. Enter CISPA:
Because it overrides all federal and state privacy laws, including the Wiretap Act, legislation called CISPA would formally authorize the program without the government resorting to 2511 letters. In other words, if CISPA, which the U.S. House of Representatives approved last week, becomes law, any data-sharing program would be placed on a solid legal footing. AT&T, Verizon, and wireless and cable providers have all written letters endorsing CISPA.
That more clearly explains the breathless support for CISPA
from AT&T and Verizon. It also makes any promised veto of CISPA
by the Obama administration more suspect than it already was. The veto appears to have less to do with being concerned about privacy provisions, and more focused on making sure they get a final bill that can shore up any legal risks caused by their law-breaking adventures with the nation's telecom carriers.