Saturday, September 15, 2007

Wiretapping in the Digital Age

Communications coming from outside the US do not come in by radio or wire any more, they come in from optical fiber.

First, the optical fiber is split into two copies; not quite at the same strength but still pretty good quality. One copy goes to the phone switch and the other copy runs through filters that select data based on pre-decided terms based on what the government is looking for.

One difference between the old way of wiretapping and the new way is that cooperation of the phone and/or cable companies is needed because their equipment or cables must be altered to get results.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is currently litigating in San Francisco that AT&T has allegedly set aside a secure room for the National Security Agency (NSA) to wiretap where the signal is split and then the run their half of the cable through filters. The communications of interest is then shipped back to the NSA.

The Bush Administration is trying to get the case dismissed, declaring this action falls under the category of state secrets, or in other words is none of our business. In another similar case the government refuses to identify the carrier.

The corporations, such as AT&T, are caught in the middle, because complying with the government's request flies in the face of protecting the privacy of communication they promise to their customers.

"The courts cannot permit the government to evade responsibility for unconstitutional activities with thin claims of 'state secrets.' Without judicial review, there is no way to stop abuses of power," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "The courts are well equipped to protect state secrets while determining whether the spying is illegal and if so, to put a stop to it."

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