AT&T turns information over to the NSA without warrants?


April 10, 2006, 10:44 AM,70619-0.html?tw=wn_index_12

We see this all the time now. I'm curious - how many of you try to live "off-grid" to any degree?

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April 10, 2006, 11:49 AM
Maybe some of the phone company guys could chime in here.

Was AT&T actually providing recordings of telephone conversations or were they merely providing a list of phone numbers called? I think one requires a warrant and the other does not.

For instance, AT&T keeps track of those who call 800 numbers and sells that list to marketers.

I think .....

April 10, 2006, 02:20 PM
I would personally be far more concerend about them taking fiber from peers. Talk about freedom to snoop over a TON of data.

As far the warrant goes, it sounds like what they did was give the NSA access and say "we trust that you'll get into only what you should be." Its like telling the kids to take just 1 cookie from the cookie jar, do you trust them to? To me its something that clearly needs a tremendous amount of auditing and supervision. But I don't get to run the att switches either, just a small telephone company's.

April 10, 2006, 03:19 PM
While not trying to sound to tin-hatted here, it was my understanding that the NSA is well plugged into major communication trunks in most telco networks in the US, and certainly all traditional International ones - so I have read and heard often. Now this may not mean they have everything and certainly it seems they ask fairly often for records from telco provider's proprietary networks which are more difficult to track.

Bottomline since 9-11 and the "Patriot Act", this stuff is pretty much fair game for the .gov now without warrants. Seriously look what little effect the revelations of Bush's exec office taps without warrants has done.

April 10, 2006, 07:25 PM
This was covered a while back. Do a search for CALEA. Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. The telcos have little control or oversight over what these people access. There are supposed to be warrants issued to cover what is being monitored but there is no way to really prevent abuse of the system.

April 11, 2006, 09:02 AM
First, let me qualify what I'm about to write. I have a degree in electrical engineering, and I currently work for a very large world wide telecommunications provider. I have worked in the telecommunications field for well over 10 years. I have both field and central office experience with many type of circuits including POTS, Digital, Frame relay, ATM cell relay, and SONET based communications. What follows are my personal, professional opinions based on actual first hand knowledge and some speculation based on industry experience.

First let me address the above question as to whether the phone companies provide recordings of phone calls, lists of numbers and what requires a warrant and what doesn't. Phone companies (at least in my first hand experiences) do not engage in the actual recording of phone calls. Recording may occur by individuals with personal motivations on limited numbers (illegally), but not by any company policy, or on behalf of any government agency. What does occur is the facilitation of monitoring or "tapping" by government agents (local, state, and federal) through means of physical connections to an analog phone circuit (think 80's movie guy on a pole), installation of a dual service arrangement (installing your # at the house accross the street from you), or through installation of equipment or connections at various points of concentration (central offices). More about that last part in a bit.

As far as lists of who you call. That information is protected by law, but is recorded and stored for various amounts of time. On that note however, when you place or receive a call, certain information is sent with and prior to the completion of the call to and from both serving offices, such as called name & number, and calling name and number(caller ID), and in most places call data includes E911 address database information which includes the actual physical address at which the number terminates. Anyone who was monitoring your call would have access to that information as well, with the exception of E911 info if the tap was physical in nature and made in the field because that information is not contained in analog call overhead like CID info is. All of that info is contained in interoffice call setup communications made via a standardized protocol referred to as SS7, in addition to CID info sent in analog form by the remote switch to the called party.

With regard to warranted and warrantless taps, my experience has been that taps by local and state agencies are generally only made via warrant, with certain exceptions such as barricaded suspects or other on the fly emergency situations. Phone companies are required by law (in america) to have a liason office for this type of thing, usually a division of their asset protection or security office. Federal taps are made both with and without warrants (what the article addresses). The latter of which I will address further.

The article talks about the installation of special circuits and equipment in various central offices throughout the country. This equipment is what is being used for on the fly tapping and monitoring of both international and domestic communications. Much of this was facilitated via the patriot act, although I know first hand certain types of circuits for these purposes were installed prior to 9-11.

To understand how it works you need to know some basics about telecommunications. Like air travel, telecommunications are routed based upon the destination and type of cummunication. International calls must go through one of several points of entry into the US network, much like an international flight goes to an international airport. The fact that this equipment has been installed in offices that are international points of entry as well as offices that are NOT international hubs, proves that domestic monitoring is occuring. If the sole purpose of these connections was to monitor only international communication then that strategy would be self defeating and inefficient.

For the purpose of this post I'll categorize the monitoring into into two types. First is explicit monitoring of known numbers on the fly, and second is the blanket monitoring of all calls routed through a given wire center. The former is likely facilitated by the equipment installed in the office. I have no first hand experience with this equipment or it's software, other than I have seen some once or twice. This equipment does have a connection to the call setup network though and based on that I can guess as to how it is done. The equipment checks all call routing info on the SS7 network against a "hit sheet" of known numbers, be they international or domestic. When an attempted call involving one of those numbers is found a logical connection (tap) is made via this equipment and a real person at some off site government facility listens in. Essentially this would likely operate as a customer support call center that handles incoming calls only. Data analysts probably get patched to the call to listen while they enter data about the call into a screen. All that occurs on the fly and without warrants. Like I said, I didn't build the equipment or write it's software, but it does exist and I can guess as to the "how" part. Obviously if the equipment works like I am guessing, you would either have to get your number on the "hit sheet" or be called by a number on the list. The capacity for monitoring would only be limited by the number of analysts available (or recording equipment/software for later or computer analysis) and the number of available trunks between the equipment and the remote monitor site with the former seeming to be the more likely bottleneck.

Now the blanket monitoring, which I consider to be the most sinister, is something entirely different. I do not believe it is possible for this type of monitoring to occur with equipment installed in the CO. The amount of processor to accomplish the task would simply not be feasible to install there and would definately make headlines if it was. That does not mean that it is not occurring. It just means it is being done off site. The logical way to do this would be to make a connection to an optical circuit and route that data to a remote center that way, or to simply listen in to the increasingly large amount of data being sent via sattelite. The only real question is not "could" they listen, but would they be able to screen the calls for keywords. I maintain that they could. I was experimenting with commercially produced and openly available voice recognition IC's 15 years ago. The technology is there to do it. It appears that they are.

In summary, don't say anything you don't want heard over the phone. Sorry for the length of the post. It seemed the only way to convey the info. I'm not some tinfoil hatted conspiracy theorist. The facts are what they are however, and what absolutely can not be refuted is that the federal government has unfettered access to monitor the telephony and internet services in america with seemingly no oversight. You do the math.


April 11, 2006, 09:17 AM
Very informative, thanks. I guess that between all that and ECHELON, they pretty much have it all covered.

Derek Zeanah
April 11, 2006, 11:46 AM
Something not mentioned here: I was under the impression that the EFF lawsuit was based on the assertion that all of AT&T's internet traffic is being routed through the NSA before continuing on to its destination.

If true (the lawsuit may tell us), then this is A Big Deal.

April 11, 2006, 07:34 PM
It is my assessment that the US could well morph into the most thorough-going tyranny ever seen simply because we have the technology to do it. I see nothing in this thread to disuade my pessimism

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