Qwest's Questions


On the face of it, the NSA's dragnet of domestic phone call records violates the Communications Act, which prohibits phone companies from giving out such information without the customer's permission or a legal requirement. As the Congressional Research Service put it in a recent report, "telecommunications carriers are subject to clear and unambiguous obligations to guard the confidentiality of CPNI [customer proprietary network information] and to ensure that it is not disclosed to third parties without customer approval or as required by law."

Violating this law seems to have been the main concern of Qwest, the one company that refused to participate in the secret program. USA Today reports that Qwest officials asked the NSA to clear its data collection with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or at least get an opinion from the Justice Department certifying that the program was legal. The NSA refused, saying the court and the attorney general might not agree the program was legal.

The administration could argue (if it decided to acknowledge the program's existence) that the information collected and analyzed by the NSA does not qualify as "customer proprietary network information" (defined, per CRS, as "personally identifiable information derived from a customer's relationship with a telephone company") because it does not include names and addresses. But as USA Today notes, "the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information."

Hence the need for argument #2: Congress unwittingly amended the Communications Act when it authorized the use of military force against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. And if you don't buy that, there's always the president's fallback position: because I said so. If Bush has inherent constitutional authority to override the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, I guess he has inherent constitutional authority to override the Communications Act.

NEXT: Bill Lowery's Disorderly Orderly

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  1. Interesting that W comes out and makes a statement that did not address the fact that they have gathered information on domestic-to-domestic calls, but merely repeated his usual talking points about “national security” and “9/11.”


    31% and falling.

  2. Fox News morning, Michelle Malkin and other conservative talking heads are spinning this as no big deal, the NSA is ‘doing its job’ etc.

    What happened to ‘illegal is illegal’?

  3. Qaeda – five letters, begins with a “Q”

    Qwest – five letters, begins with a “Q”

    Draw your own conclusions….

  4. Quick, dial 9/11!

  5. USA Today is now a hippie moonbat rag!
    Don’t they know that laws and courts just aren’t Bush’s bag?
    Spying on Americans and trying to mislead ’em,
    All of that (and much much more) is part of spreading freedom!

  6. I posted this on the other thread about this topic, but I thought maybe more people would see it here. It was my first confrontation with someone of authority who believes this shit.

    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.

  7. Holy Crap, Steve, sounds like you guys have got yourselves a commissar. Wonder what else we’ve borrowed from the commies.

  8. I never thought I would say this, having been a customer of theirs when I lived out west, but HOORAY FOR QWEST!

  9. Steve,

    I just graduated from college in the northeast, and I went to school with a student who worked for the military at a base as an intern, and the student had the same attitude as the DHS guy you encountered. It?s troubling that some many people, especially people who work in government, think this way. Personally, I rather live in danger and have freedom than be completely safe and live without freedom.

  10. *correction* …the DHS guy you encountered. It?s troubling that some many people…
    Take out the word many. Ooops 🙂

  11. The Great White Father in Washington will protect us.

  12. “Access Issue Halts Domestic Spying Inquiry”

    by Devlin Barrett, A P (today’s paper)

    “The Government has abruptly ended an inquiry into the warrantless eavesdropping program because the National Security Agency refused to grant Justice Department lawyers the security clearance to probe the matter.”


    There’s no incentive to try and make stuff up; it’s all there waiting for you.

  13. I love my husband. Sure he beats me, but I know he’s good at heart. I will stay with him and he will get better.

  14. The NSA refused, saying the court and the attorney general might not agree the program was legal.

    Apostacy may not be the only basis for damnation, but it’s a good one.

  15. “If Bush has inherent constitutional authority to override the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, I guess he has inherent constitutional authority to override the Communications Act.”

    I’m still stunned that Saddam Hussein hasn’t started using Bush’s arguments -“I had the inherent constitutional authority to bomb Falluja”.

    For that matter, Ahmedinejad should use it, too. Throw it back in Bush’s face so that Bush has to argue against his own theories of unlimited power.

  16. Everyone, we should keep in mind that our government is doing this because of the terrorists, and the terrorists attack us because they hate our freedom.

    Just not as much as Bush does.

  17. and the terrorists attack us because they hate our freedom.

    So… if we remove our freedoms… *smacks forehead*

  18. Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 18 U.S.C. 2511
    Section 2703. Required disclosure of customer communications or records

    (c) Records Concerning Electronic Communication Service or Remote Computing Service. — (1) A governmental entity may require a provider of electronic communication service or remote computing service to disclose a record or other information pertaining to a subscriber to or customer of such service (not including the contents of communications) only when the government entity — (A) obtains a warrant issued using the procedures described in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure by a court with jurisdiction over the offense under investigation or equivalent State warrant; (B) obtains a court order for such disclosure under subsection (d) of this section; (C) has the consent of the subscriber or customer to such disclosure…

    (d) Requirements for Court Order. — A court order for disclosure under subsection (b) or (c) may be issued by any court that is a court of competent jurisdiction and shall issue only if the governmental entity offers specific and articulable facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the contents of a wire or electronic communication, or the records of the information sought, are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation. In the case of a State governmental authority, such a court order shall not issue if prohibited by the law of such State. A court issuing an order pursuant to this section, on a motion made promptly by the service provider, may quash or modify such order, if the information or records are requested are unusually voluminous in nature or compliance with such order otherwise would cause an undue burden on such provider.

  19. Imagine you have been arrested, have plead innocent and are out on bond. Your court date is set, and you get an order to appear. Your response:

    You refuse, saying the court and the attorney general might not agree your actions were legal.

    Hey, if its good enough for the NSA . . . .

  20. While I was a utilities commissioner in Iowa (2001-2005), I championed deregulation of telephone service in Iowa, largely served by Qwest. The news that they stood up to the NSA is one more sign to me that that the folks that run that company have their heads on straight! I hate paying bills as much as the next person, but this month I’m going to stick a note in with my check to Qwest saying, “Thank you, Qwest, for protecting my privacy”! Thank goodness for a company willing to stand up for the rule of law!

  21. Qwest didn’t have the records straight, that’s why they refused, not because they wanted to protect your rights.

  22. The reporting that I’ve seen only involves land lines. Does anybody know the deal on cell phones? We know that AT&T (and hence Cingular) are a bunch of weasels, as is Verizon. What about TMobile? I don’t know what the Qwest coverage is like in Maryland.

    Anyway, I’ve calmed down somewhat. I was originally thinking that the best solution to this problem would involve pitchforks, torches, large angry mobs, and maybe some Guy Fawkes masks. Now I’m just contemplating canceling my Verizon service, switching to a more privacy-friendly company, and defaulting on my contract termination fee. Yes, yes, I know, contract are sacroscant in libertarian philosophy and all that, but, well, fuck it. The collaborators are the first ones against the wall after a revolution, so not paying a bill is letting them off easy.

    You really don’t want to know what I was originally planning to do to Verizon’s upper management. Suffice it to say that I was going to redecorate NSA headquarters in a red motif.

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