Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Has Your Telephone Company Been Spying On You?: A lot has been written about how much damage the domestic spying scandal could do the Bush administration, but I haven't seen much about the potential fallout for the telphone companies who apparently co-operated in a massive data-mining operation.

This Slate article not only provides an interesting examination of what makes the Bush administration's warrantless wire-tapping exceptional in American history, but also some valuable background on the involvement of the telphone companies.

"Since 9/11, leading telecommunications companies 'have been storing information on calling patterns and giving it to the federal government to aid in tracking possible terrorists.' Citing current and former government and corporate officials, the Times reported that the companies have granted the NSA access to their all-important switches, the hubs through which colossal volumes of voice calls and data transmissions move every second. A former telecom executive told us that efforts to obtain call details go back to early 2001, predating the 9/11 attacks and the president's now celebrated secret executive order. The source, who asked not to be identified so as not to out his former company, reports that the NSA approached U.S. carriers and asked for their cooperation in a 'data-mining' operation, which might eventually cull 'millions' of individual calls and e-mails."
The telephone companies should be bracing themselves for some PR blowback on this. I assume that the phone companies' defense will be that it would have been unpatriotic to deny a request from the NSA (I'd argue the opposite: that it was unpatriotic to comply). But the questions are coming.

I can't be the only one who would like to know whether my telephone company helped the NSA spy on me (I fit the profile: I make a lot of overseas calls, and because I've written numerous stories about Iraq, I'm sure I've mentioned Al-Qaeda and even made some pretty derogatory comments about the current administration during those calls.)

I'd also like to know if there's anything I can do about it. Changing phone companies seems impractical, because the Slate article seems to suggest that they are all implicated. But if all this turns out to have been illegal (and it almost certainly was), can I sue my phone company?

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