All Your Calls Belong to Us


Well, well. Turns out the distinction between overseas spying and domestic spying by the NSA is as meaningless as it seemed all along. USA Today explains:

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.

The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans—most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.

Sit back and enjoy the spin. You pretty much know it by heart now anyway.

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  1. Are there any large corporations that won’t lay back and spread ’em for authoritarian activities? We have the internet companies in China, we have the phone companies here in the US.

    I must say that this probably doesn’t raise any Constitutional issues, as I expect the phone records at issue are the property of the phone company that they can give to the government if they want. Still, it would be nice if one of them would, to coin a phrase, “Just Say No.”

  2. R C:

    You should have read the article. Qwest said no.

  3. I think we all need to calm down. There is no way on God’s green earth that this information would be used in any other way except to combat terrorism.

    Any other targets, like the War on Drugs, or political dissidents will be exempt from this. So we have nothing to worry about.

  4. And, of course, if you’re innocent, you’ve nothing to hide. “Anything to protect america”, they’d say…

  5. R C Dean, I heard on the radio this morning that Qwest, at least, did say no. Yep, the AP piece on this news says that Qwest refused because of privacy and legal concerns. Good for them.

    Jeff, unless I’m missing the reference, it should be “All your calls are belong to us.” To really hit the Engrish more accurately, you could further refine the headline to read, “All your call are belong to us.”

    Somebody set up us the bomb.

  6. Mr. Nice Guy– I agree 100%. There is no way that unsupervised and unchecked authority like this would ever be abused. I mean hell, when has that EVER happened? Besides, the people who are involved in the various “no this is not a dragnet” domestic spying programs shop at the same stores and send their kids to the same schools we do, so no worries.

  7. If You’re Not Doing Anything Wrong You Have Nothing to Worry About!

    *Slogan Trademark of Fascists for a Safe America 2006. All rights reserved.

  8. mng,

    My sarcasm alarm rang so loud that I now have a headache. Thanx.

  9. In other news, the SEC has announced today that they will begin investigation into possible price gouging/overpaid CEO’s/monopolistic/predatory pricing practices of Qwest.

  10. They may figure out a way to punish Qwest mediageek, but I can absolutelygeedamgaronteeya it won’t be what you are suggesting. Because any sensible antitrust precedents in the telecomm could come back to bite the good doobies who co-operated with Uncle Sam.

  11. If you’d like to see something that will make you cry this morning, check out the new “Google Trends” feature – it tracks public interest in different issues based on searches (I’m not really sure how it works).

    if you really want to be upset, try these search strings: “Paris Hilton, Iraq War”, “American Idol, wiretaps”, “NASCAR, Iran”
    Be creative!

  12. “I will be sure to continue to do business with Verizon, in support of its willingness to cooperate with the government to prevent another September 11.”
    –Michelle Malkin, about this story, roughly 14 minutes ago

  13. But will any senior executive from AT&T etc, or better yet senior member of the NSA, or even better still member of the Administration, ever do time for this? Not flipping likely. So while we can squawk and cackle all day, the President’s assertion of limitless authority goes unchecked.

  14. You should have read the article.


    Qwest said no.

    Good. That’s one. Why are the others so eager to bend over?

  15. I literally got up and danced at my desk when I saw that Qwest refused to hand over the records. It’s the “Spirit of Service” in action!

  16. Of course, the records for disposable cell phones (paid for with cash) will be meaningless.
    Not that any person with nefarious intent would use them.

  17. Any lawyers out there who wanna sue the phone companies? With millions of people, I think we could get class action status…

  18. So, are you ready to hear about the cataloguing of all of your email yet, or should I just continue to wear this tinfoil hat and look insane, until the mainstream press is ready to hit that issue. Gloucester, England, has been collecting it for years, and the US has free access.

  19. Perhaps there is some (cold?) comfort in the fact that the government has seldom demonstrated competence in handling massive amounts of information. Not that that justifies anything our overlords might do–or not.

    In the meantime, Skype and Vonage are just a VOIP call away.

  20. Nice to know that not a single reliable carrier in Texas refused. Oy and vey.

  21. “Any lawyers out there who wanna sue the phone companies? With millions of people, I think we could get class action status.”

    The problem is figuring out what to sue them for.

  22. of course i can’t get qwest in my area. i would love to dump verizon and give them this as the reason.

  23. I want to cry.

  24. OK, I am seriously tempted to bite the bullet and pay the contract termination fee. If Qwest offers good service in my area then I will tell Verizon to go fuck itself. And I will visit every Verizon store in my neighborhood to announce, very loudly, that Qwest won’t hand your phone records over to the NSA.

    I might even contemplate covering the “Verizon” sign with one that says “Stasi”. Except I’m pretty sure most people wouldn’t get it.

  25. Also, I refuse to spell correctly or apply proper punctuation and spelling until I get to take off this damned tin foil hat and crazy-ass placard.

    Here’s how the email scheme works. (Recall, it is illegal for the NSA to spy on American citizens.)

    A) If your email packets cross a backbone, then those packets are copied across the atlantic to Gloucester, where all UK emails are recorded at super massive data center.

    B) Now, its not the NSAs fault or problem if a bunch of extra packets get routed through Gloucester, is it? Those are just extra copies of packets. Its just the Internet.

    C) Gloucester assembles the packets and stores the emails in their megabase. They may only keep topics by keyword. Who knows?

    D) Now, if they GIFT this information,or key topics,to the NSA, then the NSA hasn’t done any spying on US citizens.


    Notice that when you ask an NSA representative about information on US citizens, they don’t say they don’t have any. They just reply that it is illegal for them to spy on US citizens.

    It depends on what “spy” is.

    I now put my tinfoil hat back on. I will march up and down this sidewalk until these lice and fleas drink all of my blood.

  26. And, in all seriousness, GOD BLESS QWEST.

  27. I’ve been out of this type of law for too long, but I have a vague recollection that there are some very loose standards around so-called pen registers (or their technological successors), which track what phone is making calls to what other phone. I wonder if this isn’t just an extension of that, though I think that even those loose standards require some sort of court order.

  28. Yet another reason to be sorry that Verizon beat out Qwest in the bidding for MCI.

  29. I’m with Mr Nice Guy; I see ZERO potential for abuse or expansion of this sort of information gathering. It’s not like they would ever check to see who Howard Dean has been talking to. Or pass on phone records to the DEA. I mean, c’mon- that’s the sort of thing the KGB, or those other guys- Gaspacho, or something, wasn’t it?-would be doing.

    I have nothing to worry about, because I am have been a good boy.

    If they’re spying on you- YOU OBVIOUSLY DESERVE IT.

  30. I’m starting to see “V for Vendetta” as a how-to manual…

  31. What’s amazing to me is that it’s still going on!

    VOTE DEM IN NOVEMBER!!! Otherwise, you are no Libertarian, just a moron.


  32. Don Weber, a senior spokesman for the NSA, declined to discuss the agency’s operations. “Given the nature of the work we do, it would be irresponsible to comment on actual or alleged operational issues; therefore, we have no information to provide,” he said. “However, it is important to note that NSA takes its legal responsibilities seriously and operates within the law.”

    Whew. I feel better now.

  33. Thoreau – I don’t get it. What is “Stasi?”

  34. Jersey McFluffernutter,
    How about voting libertarian? Wouldn’t that make one more libertarian than voting democrat?

  35. Good point, Randolph – just takes votes away from the sleazy cons AND shows the dems a thing or two!

    (I’m a liberal progressive, but I certainly think there should be a bigger place for the libers at the table)


  36. Cap’n Obvious-

    The East German secret police, who were legendary for having very detailed information on all citizens and a massive network of informants. From what I understand, they were considered exceptionally intrusive, even by the standards of the Communist bloc. I don’t know if that’s actually born out by the detailed facts and figures, but that’s the reputation.

  37. “I can’t get Qwest in my area…”

    You might try one of Qwest’s subcarriers (like


    Yeah, we all know the Dems would never engage in massive data-mining operations.

    [Googles Echelon]


  39. RCD, the point, my anti-dem friend, is that the dems now have the political impotace to do something about this. Wouldn’t that be a good thing – or are you really just a sleazy con in disguise?


  40. R C Dean, don’t forget the Clipper chip, CALEA, the prosecution of Phil Zimmerman (over PGP being “munitions”), the Know Your Customer rules, the CDA, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum. Democrats in power are so different from Republicans. Especially in the White House. Why it’s considered anything but absolutely correct to say, “A pox on both their houses!” escapes me.

  41. I’m a liberal progressive

    What what what? I had figured you were a baptist preacher, Jersey.

  42. This is just a way for the NSA to fund its own activity by selling the contents of your calls to direct marketers.

    “Hello, Sue? We’ve noticed that you’ve been calling Martha a lot lately. You must be pretty good friends, eh? Well did you know that Martha orders a lot of clothes from the Clothes Barn’s toll-free number?
    You didn’t? Well it just happens that the Clothes Barn is having a sale this weekend….”

    You will then receive, via email and traditional mail, advertisements based on the contents of your conversations.

    You tell your buddy on the phone that you’re hungry for some wings and you get a pop-up ad for The Wing Stop.

  43. Customers should not be afraid of their wireless carriers. Wireless carriers should be afraid of their customers.

  44. “RCD, the point, my anti-dem friend, is that the dems now have the political impotace to do something about this.”

    Joisey McNoisy, did you mean impotance?

  45. “A) If your email packets cross a backbone, then those packets are copied across the atlantic to Gloucester, where all UK emails are recorded at super massive data center.”

    The forum I mod on had a weird thing happen back in February where we found a bunch of domestic IP addresses being routed through Lambeth, England.

  46. I’m afraid that under Supreme Court precedent, there’s really no constitutional issue here. In Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (U.S. 1979), the Supreme Court siad that a citizen has no privacy expectation in phone numbers dialed because that information is released to a third party (the phone company). While the contents of the conversation may be private (and the article doesn’t suggest that conversations were intruded upon), the fact that a person made a call, to where, and for how long are not private and therefore do not violate the 4th Amendment. Whether ths program violates the Electronic Communications Privacy Act or some other statute is another matter.

  47. Also in the USA Today article:

    “[NSA] also tried appealing to Qwest’s patriotic side: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest’s refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, one person recalled.”

    So we might as well get this well-worn comment out of the way because you know it’s coming… Qwest, why do you hate America?

  48. As I design my flying robots (as inspired by another thread), I believe I may develop a line of flying delivery robots, which will take encrypted messages to and fro. They will have the ability to fly at high speeds, to defend themselves, and to, in extremis, self destruct. Later, when I’ve worked out the power issue, they’ll deliver packages, too. In any case, this will defeat unconstitutional surveillance. I suppose it might have some truly illicit uses, but the government is free to shoot down my robots, so long as I’m compensated for the “taking” πŸ™‚

    Is Mailbots a good name for the service?

  49. And dammit, I meant impotence.


  50. I believe JMJ meant ‘impetus’.

  51. Good luck getting the FAA to approve the flight paths for your mailbots.
    Guess this would be a case of high-bandwidth/high-latency?

  52. Why are the others so eager to bend over?

    Maybe because, also from USA Today, “In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest’s foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government.”

    There are more than just inefficiency and wasteful spending issues when the government plays too large a role in the economy. Companies not wanting to lose out on government contracts, licenses, or favorable legislation are going to be very reluctant to take any action that might upset their cozy relationship with Washington

  53. nemo, that’s a valid criticism. I suppose they could fly low enough to avoid FAA restrictions (if that’s possible), or I could discard the “flying” part. Running robots are fine, too, albeit slower.

  54. Jersey, you’re frigging hillarious sometimes.

    This ain’t one of them. You just sounds dumb today.

    Partisan fuckwit.

  55. Hey, Pro, I don’t believe that the FAA regulates RC model aircraft; your idea would be just like an RC aircraft, except self-controlled.

    I like it!! πŸ˜€



  57. Seriously suggesting that we vote for Democrats to stop encroachments on personal freedoms… honestly, what are you smoking?

  58. BTW, Qwest’s biggest shareholder is The Anschutz Company, controlled by Philip Anschutz, a big contributor to Republican party and Christian Right causes (including Walden Media, producer of last year’s “Narnia” movie).

    I wonder how the small talk between Anschutz and GWB will go at the next GOP fund-raising dinner? Probably something like that “Why does Qwest hate America?” line that Mr. Courts suggested. Or maybe (we can always hope, can’t we) Anschutz will have cut off the money spigot to the Republicans and won’t even have been invited.

  59. I just have to put in my two cents: I recently began work, right out of college, for a defense contractor, the top computer science employer in the region (I live in the midwest, away from a lot of tech companies). Anyways, I was talking to a coworker in the cafeteria about this today during morning break, and a fucking DHS guy comes over to me and gives me a stern talking to. He tell me: “Do you want a 1000 people to die? I didn’t think so. Privacy isn’t that important anymore, is it?” and also “Do you have a house? a car? a family? One bomb could ruin this company and you’d lose all of it? How does that make you feel?” and “It’s only call mapping. It’s no big deal.” Just for the record, I don’t know if he is an actual DHS employee, but he is affiliated with them and goes to DHS-sponsored seminars for training, and his opinion could be considered at least roughly analogous to their own. I also decided that today will be the last day I go without looking for another job.

  60. Steve- pay no attention to the “static” on your phone. Everything is working fine; just remember to speak cleary and slowly when you call your friends at Al Queida HQ.

  61. maybe there is a way to encrypt a phone conversation.

  62. Look, Clean Hands, you friggin genius, THE GOV’T REQUIRES BALANCE IN ORDER TO PROMOTE POSITICE CHANGE. Whatever simpleminded partisan generalizations you may believe, the impeTUS for change comes from partisan balance. Remember how the GOP and Clinton ran things? Bring that back or be FUCKING STUPID.


  63. -“Joisey McNoisy, did you mean impotance?

    -“I believe JMJ meant ‘impetus’.”

    I believe I detect a new parlor game.

  64. Remember how the GOP and Clinton ran things? Bring that back or be FUCKING STUPID.

    Holy Crap, Jerz, ya might as well ask us to move mountains.

    First we have to repeal the 22nd Amendment so we can elect Bill president. And then we’ve got to find some honest Republicans* for Congress.

    Nothing else will work. When we had a Rep prez and Dem Con spending and deficits were out of control just like it is now with a Rep prez and Rep Con.

    No Dem now even comes close to old Bill and the Republicans have raised corruption to high art. And after watching Democrat shenanigans for years I didn’t think it was possible that the stupid party could outdo them in sleaze. πŸ™‚

    *which is sorta like finding a virgin in a whorehouse.

  65. “Implants?”

  66. “ook, Clean Hands, you friggin genius, THE GOV’T REQUIRES BALANCE IN ORDER TO PROMOTE POSITICE CHANGE. Whatever simpleminded partisan generalizations you may believe, the impeTUS for change comes from partisan balance. Remember how the GOP and Clinton ran things? Bring that back or be FUCKING STUPID.”

    Joisey McNoisy, I ? you. You’re so vitriolically partisan I have to wonder if you’re actually just drinking Drano in lieu of the standard issue Kool-Aid.

  67. Voting isn’t going to change anything until many undemocratic institutions are rebooted.

    But if living in Joisey and voting democratic floats your pestromi, who are we to tell you to stop living a lie?

  68. If voting could change anything, it would be illegal. ?

  69. Actually, Jersey, partisan balance doesn’t spur change. It spurs pork.


  70. Er- “indolence”

  71. insolence?

  72. “Incontinence?”

  73. incontinence?

  74. damn it Pro L! πŸ™‚

  75. maybe there is a way to encrypt a phone conversation.

    There’s a harmless little project

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the world had a standard for voice crypto over telephone lines and over the Internet? And what if this was implemented both in dedicated hardware to give to your grandmother and in software to run on your favorite platform? Wouldn’t it be nice if all this technology had published PC-board layouts and software and firmware source code. Suppose it was made outside the US, so there would be no ITAR restrictions, and the firmware that came with it would use no algorithms or codecs based on currently valid patents or copyrights.
    Now who would object to such an honorable cause? A harmless little project indeed…

    Disclaimer: I have no practical experience with this stuff.

  76. pompitous?

  77. “Penguin lust?”

  78. Re: RC planes – yeah, but the RC planes aren’t spanning hundreds if not thousands of miles and needing to fly high enough to avoid unusual obstructions. Think the FAA might have some rules about range and mass, given he’s proposing basically a network of mail carrying cruise missiles. (anyway, would make more sense to keep ’em above the weather)

    I know it is kind of an off-the-wall idea anyway. Has a certain charm, don’t know about wide application. Personally, I have a decent faith in strong crypto.
    And there are a more and more proxying darknets springing up in response to government pressures.

    If an entire alternate peer to peer internet (wireless?) has to spring up, so be it.

  79. I’m sure the Bush administration would never use these numbers to prosecute everyone who has bought ‘Girls Gone Wild’ videos, or called the local porn shop to find out when they close.

    Oh, wait, this is the Bush administration.

  80. “Penguin lust?”

    No, it’s not that.

  81. Well, the logical thing is to deploy my own satellite network or lay my own fiber (or take up some dark fiber). Control that and control the content through strong encryption, and privacy would be ensured. To the extent that the government doesn’t force me to give up information, anyway. I’m reminded of the law requiring telecommunications equipment manufacturers to leave a “back door” for electronic surveillance purposes.

    But I want robots for deliveries of things that can’t be digitized. Maybe the robots could serve as local couriers. A long distance network would need something akin to the Pony Express, unless large drones were employed. And yes, if someone could suborn the drones somehow, they could do some wicked damage, I’m sure.

    Of course, the mind boggles at the liability issues. I still get the shakes imagining what some kids could do with the “attractive nuisance” that is the robotic lawnmower.

  82. Speaking of penguin lust, did anyone see March of the Penguins? Yowza–I haven’t see that kind of porn since the 70s.

  83. Had a big war with an attorney representing a client whose partner was suing him. The war was over my phone records (ie, phone bills).

    During the depo, legal man insisted that he had a right to see my phone records in order to discover the frequency of calls between my client and I.

    I said no, the records contained confidential information about other clients. This completely baffled him. He simply could not understand why I would care about a list of phone numbers. Finally he shrugged and said:

    Fine, I’ll just get them from the phone company.

    And he did. Just as easy as that. And that was pre 09-11.

  84. Actually, I always thought the most elegant version of that phrase was

    Only the Guilty Have Reason to Fear


  85. “Impertinence?”

  86. No Dem now even comes close to old Bill and the Republicans have raised corruption to high art. And after watching Democrat shenanigans for years I didn’t think it was possible that the stupid party could outdo them in sleaze. πŸ™‚

    I think it’s time to reconsider which is the evil party and which is the stupid one.

  87. Have you all ever seen CDR (call data records?) No freakin’ way to do anything except see a pattern. A from and a to with a million data records in between.

    So many more things to worry about than this.

    BTW: Qwest didn’t do it because they don’t have their sh*t straight enough to provide that. I highly doubt it has anything to do w/ standing up and protecting their customers.

    My opinion, this is a non issue.

    Of more importance and concerns is pharming and phishing and watching what you do right here on the Internet. Much more information can be gleaned here than w/ CSRs and CDRs from a phone company.

    My .02

  88. I think it’s time to reconsider which is the evil party and which is the stupid one.

    Reconsidering would imply that we have a consensus to reconsider. Me, I’d just as soon rely on a coin toss.

    I am seriously thinking about changing cell phone providers over this, and refusing to pay my Verizon contract termination fee. Yes, yes, I know, libertarian philosophy holds that contracts are sacred, yadda yadda. But, well, fuck it. The way I see it, I’ll be letting them off easy if all I do is refuse to pay a bill. Normally the collaborators are lined up and shot after a revolution, but all I want to do is not give them money.

    Trust me, compared to what I was originally planning for Verizon’s upper management, not paying the bill is mild. Suffice it to say that I was going to redecorate the NSA headquarters.

  89. I think it’s time to reconsider which is the evil party and which is the stupid one.

    Oh, for me, “stupid party” is like “MARFLAR”*. You have to listen carefully to get the meaning from the context. On any given day I might be referring to the Elephants, the Donkeys, the Greens or even (or, maybe, especially) the LP.

    For me, it goes without saying that practically everyone currently in office is “evil”.

    *I don’t know if that was how it was spelled in the script. But it’s how I rendered it phonetically.

  90. Isaac, beware of mistaking incompetence for evil. And of mistaking different knowledge or values for incompetence.

  91. Larry, beware of mistaking a joke for a serious statement. Even if it is a bad joke.

    What you said is absolutely on target. And written with elegant precision and brevity as well.

  92. “Have you all ever seen CDR (call data records?) No freakin’ way to do anything except see a pattern. … So many more things to worry about than this.”

    The pattern is worth worrying about. The pattern is how the NSA identifies the “suspected terrorists” for the illegal eavesdropping program. Obviously, not everyone with a suspicious calling pattern is in fact a possible terrorist. It could be any of us.

    Any datamining experts here want to tell us what the false-positive rate is? I read an estimate somewhere that any datamining efforts to identify possible terrorists would finger a thousand innocent people to each actual suspect, and that was with a lot more data than calling patterns.

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