Tuesday, April 8, 2008

FBI Data Transfers Via Telecoms Questioned

As if we didn't have enough reasons to be paranoid! Now I find this. Rather than try and explain how these "connections" between the FBI and telecom companies are used, or could be used, to find out who is calling whom, I think I'll let the Washington Post take that challenge on. Bottom line is, as so often the case these days, the potential for widespread violations of personal privacy boggle the mind.

Ellen Nakashima reports:

The circuits -- little-known electronic connections between telecom firms and FBI monitoring personnel around the country -- are used to tell the government who is calling whom, along with the time and duration of a conversation and even the locations of those involved.

Recently, three Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, including Chairman John D. Dingell (Mich.), sent a letter to colleagues citing privacy concerns over one of the Quantico circuits and demanding more information about it. Anxieties about whether such electronic links are too intrusive form a backdrop to the continuing congressional debate over modifications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs federal surveillance.

Since a 1994 law required telecoms to build electronic interception capabilities into their systems, the FBI has created a network of links between the nation's largest telephone and Internet firms and about 40 FBI offices and Quantico, according to interviews and documents describing the agency's Digital Collection System. The documents were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group in San Francisco that specializes in digital-rights issues.


"When you're building something like this deeply into the telecommunications infrastructure, when it becomes so technically easy to do, the only thing that stands between legitimate use and abuse is the complete honesty of the persons and agencies using it and the ability to have independent oversight over the system's use," said Lauren Weinstein, a communications systems engineer and co-founder of People for Internet Responsibility, a group that studies Web issues. "It's who watches the listeners."


"What they want is an automatic feed, continuously. So you're checking the weather on your mobile device or making a call," and the device would transmit location data automatically. "It's full tracking capability. It's a scary proposition."

In an affidavit circulated on
Capitol Hill, security consultant Babak Pasdar alleged that a telecom carrier he had worked for maintained a high-speed DS-3 digital line that co-workers referred to as "the Quantico Circuit." He said it allowed a third party "unfettered" access to the carrier's wireless network, including billing records and customer data transmitted wirelessly.

He was hired to upgrade network security for
Verizon in 2003; sources other than Pasdar said the carrier in his affidavit is Verizon. Dingell and his colleagues said House members should be given access to information to help them evaluate Pasdar's allegations.

Yet another issue I'll be monitoring here for you. Click here to read the article in its entirety.

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