Monday, April 24, 2006
A former AT&T employee has come forward with documents suggesting that there may be a lot more domestic spying going on than President Bush has admitted. The AT&T documents suggest that telephone companies may be helping the government engage in wholesale interception of telephone calls, e-mail messages and Web surfing. If AT&T is violating its customers' privacy rights, it should come clean, and stop immediately.
According to Mark Klein, a longtime AT&T technician who is now retired, AT&T maintained a room at its San Francisco Internet and telephone hub where its customers' data could be mined by keywords, e-mail addresses and other attributes. Mr. Klein says the National Security Agency was given access to the room and the data. He says other technicians have reported to him that similar rooms exist at other AT&T sites.
Mr. Klein's assertions are the heart of a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which charges AT&T with helping the N.S.A. conduct an extensive and illegal domestic spying program. The government can legally intercept private communications only under limited circumstances, with proper judicial oversight. AT&T has refused to describe its cooperation with the N.S.A.
The lawsuit seeks damages on behalf of a large number of AT&T customers, which could provide the company with a strong incentive to re-evaluate its policies. But even without the suit, AT&T has a reason to worry if it is participating in illegal domestic spying. In the age of unfettered communication, no company should want to get a reputation for allowing the government to listen in on its customers' phone calls, read their e-mail and monitor their Web activity without the requisite legal showing.