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More Details Emerge On Domestic Spying Programs 282

Posted by kdawson
from the government-and-business-a-sittin'-in-a-tree dept.
The feed brings us this NYTimes story giving new details on the telecom carriers' cooperation with secret NSA (and other) domestic spying programs. One revelation is that the Drug Enforcement Agency has been running a program since the 1990s to collect the phone records of calls from US citizens to Latin America in order to catch narcotics traffickers. Another revelation is what exactly the NSA asked for in 2001 that Qwest balked at supplying. According to the article, it was access to the company's most localized communications switches, which primarily carry domestic calls.
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More Details Emerge On Domestic Spying Programs

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  • yeah (Score:5, Funny)

    by User 956 (568564) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @09:38PM (#21713282) Homepage
    One revelation is that the Drug Enforcement Agency has been running a program since the 1990s to collect the phone records of calls from US citizens to Latin America in order to catch narcotics traffickers.

    ...thereby winning the war on drugs once and for all. ONCE AND FOR ALL!
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      100's of pounds of reefer madness just entered the US from Canada while you wrote your message.
      • Proving the GP's point. If there are that many fans of anti-weed propaganda, mission accomplished ;)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by palegray.net (1195047)
      There are no drugs in this country. Anyone who tells you any different is lying. The War on Drugs was won in 1998 after a long, determined effort on the part of various federal and state agencies. If you persist in spreading rumors of the existence of illicit substances in this country, you will be asked to report to your local Reeducation Center for instruction. Thank you!

    • Why bother tapping Americans' phones to search for narcotraffickers when they could just bust the CIA, which alternates torture flights with cocaine flights [google.com]? Iran/Contra forever!

      Or maybe they need to tap phonecalls from Cheney to his Saud buddies [google.com]. Iran/Contra forever [google.com]!
  • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @09:40PM (#21713304) Homepage Journal
    Of course they balked at being asked for access to the home records,

    Criminal gangs, cartels and organisations are not individual customers and must have a business account with the phone company.
    • by cromar (1103585)
      Why would a gang lease business lines? Do you think they would be running a PBX and stuff?

      Hello, this is the Bloods' central Orlando office. How may I direct your call? ;)
      • Gang members, and political opponents, work in offices with PBX's.
        • by cromar (1103585)
          Are you talking about mafia? When I think of "gangs," I don't think of a particularly large organization. Maybe I don't understand what you are talking about...
          • I interpret his remarks to mean that 1) organized crime certainly is an international enterprise which would have PBXs, and 2) the local phones calls most likely to tapped would include Hillary Clinton, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and the President pro tempore of the Senate Robert Byrd. I would suggest this was perhaps a veiled Watergate [wikipedia.org] reference. The implication being that the biggest, badest "gang" occurs when the President goes bad.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              That's a good interpretation, and a valid one, but not *quite* what I meant. Gangmembers sometimes have jobs. Those jobs may be in corporate buildings, even if the job is only minimum wage slinging burgers while they're on probation: that's one of many excuses for wanting unfettered and unmonitored access to the telephone switching system at every level.

              The second part is quite right: any excuse for invading civil liberties is enough for someone, like the NSA or CIA or FBI or the DEA or any of a variety of
    • by Tore S B (711705) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:24PM (#21713914) Homepage
      Why, oh WHY wasn't this modded "Funny"? "INSIGHTFUL"?! Ironically, I feel compelled to yell "GET SERIOUS!"
      I can just picture the conversation at the local drug cartel:

      A cartel boss hangs up his cellphone after ordering the murder of several interfering policemen.
      Boss: We need a phone line for our new location
      Henchman: Sure thing, boss. Which fake name should I register it under?
      Boss: ARE YOU ABSOLUTELY MAD!? THAT IS A VIOLATION OF THE TERMS OF SERVICE! Murder, fine, extortion, fine, but VIOLATING TELEPHONE COMPANY TERMS OF SERVICE AGREEMENTS!? We're not IDIOTS here! THIS IS A BUSINESS, and we have to REGISTER AS SUCH!
  • by delire (809063) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @09:51PM (#21713364)
    Of course if this were a story about Government abuse of civil liberties in China, as applied to privacy, people would be decrying it as immaculate example of that failed, corruptible political system we call Communism. In America it just defers to "Well what have you got to hide, bad guy?"

    Describing America in the context of Democracy becomes increasingly difficult.
    • by kryten_nl (863119) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @10:07PM (#21713474)
      A democracy (ideally) follows the will of the majority. America is afraid. They are willing to trade liberty for security. Don't get me wrong, I still have high hopes for the next POTUS. But if the people do not change their mind and keep thinking that the mini-mall in a sleepy rural Oklahoman town is a "potential-terrorist-target", the terrorists have already won.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Beastmouth (1144447)
        A democracy does not ideally follow the will of the majority. Ideally, it follows the law. The Constitution of the United States is set up to protect the rights of the minority, as are the rules of the American gov't. Don't conflate the will of the people with what you hear from the speaker on your television.
        • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:15PM (#21713876) Homepage Journal
          That's not a democracy you're describing.. it's a constitutional republic. Which, ya know, is probably a heck of a lot better than a pure democracy, but seeing as the majority of Americans don't even know the difference between the two, what hope is there?

          • by The One and Only (691315) * <[ten.hclewlihp] [ta] [lihp]> on Sunday December 16, 2007 @12:48AM (#21714386) Homepage

            Considering that America is both a democracy *and* a constitutional republic, evidently neither do you. A democracy is any system in which the population at large controls (in theory, is) the government. A constitutional system is one in which a specific set of rules, known as the "constitution", limits the authority of the government. A republic is any system of government where (a) there is no monarchy and (b) government officials are supposed to represent some subset of the population.

            Nineteenth-century America is an example of an undemocratic republic--only male landowners could vote originally, though by the current day all adult citizens can vote. Current-day Britain is an example of a democratic, constitutional monarchy--while it is not a republic, there is still an (unwritten) constitution limiting the monarchy (otherwise it would be an absolute monarchy), and democracy exists.

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by graveyhead (210996)

              Considering that America is both a democracy *and* a constitutional republic

              I thought we were the popular front?

              By the way, from now on I want you all to call me "Loretta". :P
          • Lets call it a Constitutional Democratic Republic and all just get along. We aren't the bad guys, we are the geeks :-)
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by zuddha (1109433)
        While it's very likely that you mentioned Oklahoma simply for its redneck stereotype, I just wanted to point out that there actually is a sizable air force base [wikipedia.org] in Midwest City. Nobody really thinks that Jenks or Kellyville are "potential targets".
        • by Pseudonym (62607)

          Don't forget that Oklahoma has already been a terrorist target [wikipedia.org]. We can cut them a little slack for being a bit more jumpy than everyone else. Al Qaeda might not give a rat's about hitting anything in Oklahoma, but it might not be so lucky from the next nice Christian veteran boy.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by BeaverCleaver (673164)
            I second that. I've been in this country for two weeks and it seems that the homegrown lunatics outnumber the foreign lunatics by a factor of approximately infinity. The mall in Omaha, both churches in Denver, that teenager in Las Vegas... My sample size is growing disturbingly fast. Sure, they haven't hijacked any planes, but if the goal is terror, then all it takes is one of the above crazies opening up in a mall/church/bus stop.
            • by Ajehals (947354)
              What it comes down to is that anyone with a strong (well fanatical) belief in a given cause, be it religious, political or a combination is potentially a threat.

              The problem is its hard to find a unique brand (for want of a better word) that can be used to lump them all together, a brand that is both visible without having to strike up a conversation with a member of a group and also significantly different from the societal norm. Domestic terrorists generally don't have this common brand (their main common
              • "The problem is its hard to find a unique brand (for want of a better word) that can be used to lump them all together..." How about fanatics?
                • by Ajehals (947354)
                  Problem is that that is often hard to spot in advance, plus fanatics != terrorists. Not to mention that its such a broad definition that you would be including a good proportion of the population (lost of people are fanatical about something).
            • by sumdumass (711423)
              The only reason your hearing about that stuff is because it has been a slow news cycle. With Iraq somewhat toned down, they have to find something else to sell ads with.

              When you look at it, you had a couple murder suicides that outside the fact they happened in public places, would would normally get a brief mention in the news, a couple of days talking about how great the victims where and how it sucks that they were cut down too soon and it would never make national news.

              Their goal wasn't terror either, i
      • But if the people do not change their mind and keep thinking that the mini-mall in a sleepy rural Oklahoman town is a "potential-terrorist-target", the terrorists have already won.

        They aren't going to. Just talk with any shit kicker in Peachtree Mall in Columbus, GA.

        These people live their lives in irrational fear. Many are still afraid that the Russians are going to come and take their bibles away.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Urger (817972)
      It isn't fascism when we do it.
      Remember it.
      Make it your mantra.
      Keeping repeating it enough and maybe it'll be true but I wouldn't hold my breath.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 15, 2007 @09:53PM (#21713376)
    A hearty "Hip! Hip! Hoorah!!" for the tireless people at the EFF [eff.org], who are taking the legal action against this archetypal Orwellian programme to systematically trawl US citizens' private communications. Disclaimer, I'm not an American citizen, but the fact is that American standards are promulgated as the benchmark against which others are judged. (Admittedly that's not exactly a universally accepted position, but let's leave that aside for now :) ) So to that extent, if I in my country find my own government is doing something similar (as I'm sure they are; we don't have a specific law against it, and we do have some useful facilities in that respect), we can at least use the argument that "Look, this is so bad that they don't even allow it in the United States any more!" (Yeah, the positioning on that's also, uh, evolved in the last few decades...)

    So, my point: before posting a rant about the fascist big brother state that rules from beyond the centre of the Ultraworld, for heaven's sake take some actions to register your protest, and to work against it. This is the real freedom for which more abstract things like the right to not have your comms intercepted by the government. No-one's going to kick your door in at 5am and drag you off to Cuba for it, not yet anyway -(sadly I have to now include the disclaimer "unless you're very unlucky" :( ) There are 300,000-something EFF members and many more supporters, and we haven't ALL been arrested, not yet anyway ;)

    Please, stick your hand in your pocket and send 'em $30 or whatever you can. Join, if you can afford it [eff.org].

    We now return you to the Soviet Russia jokes, tinfoil hat conspiracy theories and hair-splitting arguing the toss about the precise spec of the optical splitters being used in San Francisco.

    • I joined the EFF as soon as memberships were offered. (One of the key events that spurred the founding of the organization was the Secret Service raid on my publisher, Steve Jackson Games.) My original membership card is #127.

      Through the years I've let the membership lapse now and then. For a while, the EFF's fights included marginal things like pushing ISDN connections. Hard to get excited about.

      But now . . . they have a real fight. I just rejoined at the $100.00 level.
  • The Govt has ALWAYS maintained the ability to do this for international calls. Old FDR did it, probably every administration since the beginning of telecommunications has done this.

    Dicks? Yes.
    Surprising/News? No.
    • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:15PM (#21713874) Homepage Journal

      The Govt has ALWAYS maintained the ability to do this for international calls.
      what part of "mostly domestic" do you not understand? Domestic means here not there, and us not them.
      • by sumdumass (711423)
        Obviously, mostly domestic doesn't mean all domestic. So while mostly domestic means mostly here not there, us not them, it also means them not us and there not here.

        So a tap or whatever would still be appropriate for the times the call wasn't domestic.

        BTW, what if the percentage of mostly? Is it more then half? Is it 90%? Is if 70%? I mean if 2 million calls pass through in a week and it is 90%, your still looking at 200 thousand or so non domestic calls a week. That is 200,000 chances of making a plan or
  • by bogaboga (793279) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @09:56PM (#21713398)
    ...and the method is [Osama] bin Laden's method. It works! You know why I believe it works? It's because despite millions offered for his head, he's eluded capture since 2001, though he still continues to communicate to his lieutenants.

    And he's not just wanted by any government. He's wanted by the so called "most powerful country on earth."

  • Come on, now. The seriously bad dudes out there running major operations aren't (usually) dumb enough to pick up the phone and chat away about their to-do lists. I'd think the use of commodity encryption software and computers has probably replaced a lot of insecure communications channels for these people, leaving the feds to pick up the low-hanging fruit. Sure, you might nab man number 137 on the totem pole o' dealers through a wiretap, but you're not going to be troubling the guy at the top of the food chain.

    I'd imagine this applies to all sorts of bad guys, whether they're slinging coke by the truckload or plotting terrorist acts. That begs the question: what's the real value of these surveillance programs?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That begs the question: what's the real value of these surveillance programs?
      Job security, baby.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by witte (681163)
      > what's the real value of these surveillance programs?
      The establishment wants to stay on top of the game.
      They don't give a shit about your so-called rights.
      I know that sounds harsh, but there you have it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by falconwolf (725481)

      I'd imagine this applies to all sorts of bad guys, whether they're slinging coke by the truckload or plotting terrorist acts. That begs the question: what's the real value of these surveillance programs?

      That's easy, to keep track of political protesters.

      Falcon
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Unlikely_Hero (900172)
      That's because the DEA doesn't really care about stopping drugs. They care about getting some guy, even if the is #137 on the totem pole, to justify their extravagant funding (any amount over $0 is extravagant).

      The DEA is a government jobs program.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tim C (15259)

      Sure, you might nab man number 137 on the totem pole o' dealers through a wiretap, but you're not going to be troubling the guy at the top of the food chain.

      If I were playing Devil's Advocate, I'd probably argue that even if you do only get guy #137, that gives you a chance to get him to turn "double agent", and dish up dirt to you on someone higher up the totem pole. You won't get him to get all the way to the top, but you might get, say, guy #100 - then repeat the process, until you get someone who can

  • by dada21 (163177) <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @10:39PM (#21713666) Homepage Journal
    These spying operations are both unconstitutional, and a complete waste of taxpayer time and money.

    Black marketters (i.e., criminals) have wisened up to the fact that the telephone, and the Internet, is not a safe way to communicate. Many of them are even weary of the keyboard, since tapping into a keyboard with a stroke logger has been used to put some people away.

    The drug war amazes me. Powerful interests involved in the profiteering over private medicinal use co-opt the security organizations to battle their competition. And yet few people call for the end to the drug war. The masterminds have long walked away from using technology that is easily spied on. The software, and hardware, that the masterminds use is far and away more powerful than most of the pro-privacy stuff I use. While I'm sure that the security organizations are continuously working to hack into the newer systems, they'll constantly lose ground to that battle.

    Even the lesser members of the underground are moving away from open communications. Technology isn't cheap, but it's cheaper than jail. It's a wonder that people have faith in our security forces, who will always be one-step behind. As far as I'm aware, many of the ex-government security technologists are likely working for the other side (it's much more profitable). If I was truly profit-motivated, I'd likely do it myself, considering the amount of money that is available for someone tech savvy who is willing to provide the latest and greatest hardware and software to stay ahead of the security forces. Of course, morally I'm opposed to such work, but not because it is illegal. It just doesn't interest me to be part of the organizations of that sort. I'd rather do things morally, the law be damned.

    So what is the end purpose of all this technology? It isn't safety for the citizens. I can only think of one reason, mostly conspiratorial, for the money and time spent: the learn how to use it for the powers that control the security forces. They all have their fingers [giulianipartners.com] in the pie, and by using taxpayer money for their research, they get the best of both worlds. Yes, it sounds like NWO-Alex-Jones mumbo-jumbo, but it's the only answer I can think of as to why we continue on with these programs.
    • The drug war amazes me. Powerful interests involved in the profiteering over private medicinal use co-opt the security organizations to battle their competition.

      The so called drug war was started purely by business interests. The war started in the 1930s with businesses pushing to make hemp illegal, which the Marijuana Tax Act [wikipedia.org] of 1937 did. Prior to it's passage hemp was found to be one of if the most industrial useful plants there is. MIT published a study showing an acre of hemp could make more pap

  • by Hamster Lover (558288) * on Saturday December 15, 2007 @10:58PM (#21713784) Journal
    How many Bothan spies had to die to get us this information? God knows that the Democratically controlled Congress didn't do shit to get this information.
  • Okay, so Google is the all-seeing eye, grabbing up bits and pieces of data from the people who use it - yes, I know. That said, they did sponsor one talk that I found very interesting, and now seems like an appropriate time to share it. Policy@Google - Digital Search & Seizure [youtube.com]

    How much is it going to take for people to stand up against this? Lots of people may be upset and complaining about it, but as Thoreau said: "The are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the ro
  • by Danny Rathjens (8471) <slashdot2&rathjens,org> on Sunday December 16, 2007 @03:27AM (#21715078)
    ...after the senate votes and possibly grants them retroactive immunity. Might be a good idea to contact your representatives and remind them that it's not in the best interests of remaining a functional country to encourage people or corporations to break the law. :)
    The EFF has this nifty form to submit e-mails [eff.org] to your senators, but I think phoning or faxing might be more effective at the last minute.

"Love your country but never trust its government." -- from a hand-painted road sign in central Pennsylvania

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