Light Reading

Silence of the ISPs

Dan O'Shea
12/9/2013
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Several of the largest US technology companies have banded together to send a letter to Congress and President Barack Obama asking for tighter constraints on how the federal government can collect personal data.

That there are no major broadband service provider signatures at the end of this letter should come as no surprise.

The letter was signed by eight Internet-related giants -- Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and AOL. I don't know if any telcos or cable TV companies were asked to join the group or not, but service providers such as AT&T Inc. have already made it pretty clear that they are not going to push back against federal government data collection requests.

In fact, according to an Associated Press report last week, AT&T will not even explain its actions to its own concerned shareholders.

Let's not champion the latest efforts by Google, Apple, and the rest too loudly, since they could have done something like this much earlier, long before it became clear that revelations about the National Security Agency collecting user data from service providers and web firms would not go away. Still, this letter does more in a single stroke than the likes of AT&T have managed to come up with since the spying scandal started. It also puts some focus back on the NSA activities after we have too easily become distracted by the incessant targeting of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.. (See Another Day, Another Domestic Spying Revelation; US Senators Stir Up Huawei Security Concerns; and Here Come the WiFi Drones.)

Asking for stricter rules to govern collections of personal data in the future is not even the same thing as taking a stand against the such activities. Nor is it a full explanation of what really happened and how to protect users whose data was collected.

Yet, these other tech giants are trying to do something, symbolic as it may be, while broadband service providers continue to sit silently on the sidelines.

— Dan O'Shea, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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KBode
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KBode,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/10/2013 | 11:21:00 AM
Re: Tougher For Telcos
Yeah I agree there. The dead silence does them a significant disservice from a brand perspective.,

Though I think the silence exists in part because their cooperation with intelligence runs so incredibly deep in their corporate marrow (as AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein illustrated quite clearly), total silence is the safest bet legally. Companies like Yahoo and Google at least put up select efforts to fight (Yahoo's challenge in the FISC court, Google's challenge of National Security Letters), so these kind of public statements (even if much of it is show) have some basis in reality.

AT&T at every step asked "how high" when asked to help spy on American citizens en masse. I'm not sure what a more solid statement from AT&T would consist of that wouldn't be catching them in some form of lie.

Plus, government has literally changed the laws for them specifically, and they operate frequentely as an entrenched monopoly in so many areas where it doesn't matter what consumers think of them, they must not feel any real threat from remaining silent.
pdonegan67
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pdonegan67,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/10/2013 | 9:45:58 AM
Re: Tougher For Telcos
No doubt the legacy DNA of the telcos – in all its many forms – limits flexibility when it comes to them formulating a communications strategy around consumer privacy post-Snowden.

But if I were in the corporate communications function in a telco listening to Eric Schmidt emote about how "outrageous" and "not okay" some of the NSA's alleged activities appear to have been I suspect I'd be working every angle to persuade my executives to get out there and say something rather than just shrug my shoulders and be comfortable staying schtum in the name of the conventional DNA.
KBode
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KBode,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/10/2013 | 9:03:16 AM
Re: Tougher For Telcos
I'm not sure them being regulated (something that's increasingly less and less true) has all that much to do with it. AT&T has always gone well above and beyond when it comes to lending a hand when it comes to spying on consumers, like when they actually advised the FBI on ways to skirt around privacy and wiretap laws, while volunteering to actually act as intelligence analysts (Wired, 2010). Not to mention the alleged live fiber splits the NSA has access to. Non of that has anything to do with regulation.

It comes down to the fact that it's profitable; whether it's in the $10 million reports recently stated they get from the CIA annually, or in the big government contracts they win for being so friendly. 

AT&T's not much of a consumer sweetheart whether we're talking about intelligence cooperation or anything else. Caring much about what consumers think (outside of churn statistics on a chart) simply isn't in their DNA.
pdonegan67
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pdonegan67,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/10/2013 | 4:07:48 AM
Tougher For Telcos
It's obviously tougher for telcos to align with the consumer on this.

They are a lot more regulated than the Internet Giants. They have a track record going back decades of cooperating with the security authorities in areas such as Lawful Intercept. Plus, quite rightly, they have their misgivings about communicating anything that might be of use to their adversaries in the criminal hacker community.

All the same while the Googles and Yahoos are busily oozing how much they feel the consumer's pain where over-enthuiastic NSA monitoring is concerned, having nothing to say at all on this isn't going to help the telcos in the ongoing battle for the hearts and minds of consumers.

 
Dan@LightReadingMobile
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Dan@LightReadingMobile,
User Rank: Blogger
12/9/2013 | 5:59:49 PM
Re: Pot calling the kettle black?
Yes, indeed, there's the rub.
Phil_Britt
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Phil_Britt,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/9/2013 | 5:13:08 PM
Pot calling the kettle black?
Kudos to them for taking a stance. Now all they have to do is quit collecting all of the "Big Brother" information that they do for themselves. It's one thing to have market intelligence, but all of these firms have more information on people than they should anyway.
sam masud
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sam masud,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/9/2013 | 2:36:06 PM
Re: Last year law enforcement accessed cellphone records 1M+ times
From where I sit, it's all of piece. So agree.
Dan@LightReadingMobile
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Dan@LightReadingMobile,
User Rank: Blogger
12/9/2013 | 2:33:35 PM
Re: Last year law enforcement accessed cellphone records 1M+ times
The NSA stuff is more about mass trawling of records as far as I understand it no?
Dan@LightReadingMobile
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Dan@LightReadingMobile,
User Rank: Blogger
12/9/2013 | 2:31:45 PM
Re: Reality check
Sure, although the awareness that this is happening is much greater than say it was two years ago.
SarahReedy
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SarahReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
12/9/2013 | 2:28:49 PM
Re: Reality check
I see three potential responses here -- do nothing, be proactive and write a letter to the government (even if just for good PR) or not only do nothing, but be defensive and indignant about it...
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