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Telecoms Facing $50 Billion Lawsuit for Wiretaps 585

Posted by Zonk
from the answer-to-the-people dept.
hdtv writes "According to a MarketWatch article, BellSouth Corp and Verizon Telecommunications are facing lawsuits seeking billions of dollars in damages for the decision to turn over calling records to the government. The damages amount to $1,000 per person, whose records were turned over to Feds. According to the article, 'consumers could sue the phone service providers under communications privacy legislation that dates back to the 1930s. Relevant laws include the Communications Act, first passed in 1934, and a variety of provisions of the Electronic Communications and Privacy Act, including the Stored Communications Act, passed in 1986.'"
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Telecoms Facing $50 Billion Lawsuit for Wiretaps

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  • by Chas (5144) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @06:26PM (#15326926) Homepage Journal
    I expect the lawsuits to collapse, or at least gimp along on two broken legs at that point.

    "National Security" has become the new "We Do This For Our Children".

    *Stomps away in disgust*
    • "*Stomps away in disgust*/I"

      Away? To where? Somewhere not in the global BushCo wiretap grid? And give up Slashdot?
    • Until the government says "National Security"
      they already did:
      "The telecommunications companies allegedly complied with an effort by the National Security Agency to build a vast database of calling records"
      • by Anonymous Coward
        "The telecommunications companies allegedly complied with an effort by the National Security Agency to build a vast database of calling records"

        Heh. Good luck getting the NSA to testify to that.

        I suspect this suit has legs. A company like Qwest does not tell the gov't to shove off lightly so you've got to figure that they saw this suit coming and decided that they couldn't win it. If the NSA decides to help the telcos (with the Administration's record, there's no reason to think that they will) they can
        • >>Since this is a civil suit, that plus the bits that do leak through should be sufficient to >> indicate that it happened and that the parties concerned had reasons to doubt the legality.

          Well this could do a few things .. its also enough to trigger a fed level inquiry if the lawsuit were to gain enough popularity. Any time they play the "Sealed for national security" card people tend to get even more curious. At a potential 1K a pop, people have more reason to be curious if they would qualify ,
      • by cluckshot (658931) on Sunday May 14, 2006 @07:00AM (#15329078)

        I would like to make clear that this effort had nothing to do with national security. What is more it has only one obvious conclusion for its objective. That I will let the readers figure out as they read what is the truth about what is going on. Please understand, I have read the requests for proposals and looked at bidding on the contracts to provide the service that now serves the NSA and the CIA and several US DOD operations. I know exactly what I am talking about here. This is not a supposition.

        The programs involved were not simply limited to acquiring the phone numbers dialed and times of calls etc like portrayed. The data was collected under the direction of Admiral Poindexter who was removed but the contracts and work continued. The program was to provide Total Information Awareness. [epic.org]

        The level of information mined includes 100% of all commercial database data that could be obtained. This was not necessarily limited to the amount of data "Legally" obtainable. It included software engines to recognize speach, pictures and to even identify where a picture was taken, when and what angles etc. It was not limited to metadata either. The engines would generate contextual metadata on their own. The intent was to be able to listen electronically to 100% of all world wide phone, fax and internet traffic with full understanding and full cross reference of data. The computer networks and engines to do this are very big and do exist. The US Government under this routinely intercepts a large amount of data and has search engine skill applied to the output.

        My company would not bid on the contracts even though we would do some things because some of us in the company were not invertebrates. We could see that this had no purpose regards the military GWAT (Global War On Terror). It was a level of spying and information gathering that clearly had no innocent purpose.We had other contracts which were also out of Admiral Poindexters office.

        It is clear that Al Qaeda etc had nothing to fear from such a system. Their hand carried and simple word swap encryption (Private Codes) work well against such an engine. Bojinka [the7thfire.com] for example would have had no meaning until an arrest was made.

        The value of data to coerse a Congressman or a citizen or to produce "faked up" arrest data would be endless. The value to compromise the integrity of any democratic process and produce extortion is endless as well. (Please use your brain here: Ask why would a government want to do this? Ask what would they do this for?)

        Rest assured that recording of your phone numbers and who you called is not even significant to this operation. The level of it is deeper and more complete information on every living person on the planet than has been collected by the secret police of any terroristic evil regieme in history. The level of data here is beyond the wildest dreams of the NAZI SS in their worst days. Do what you will with this information. You now know the level of the data collection. You know know a lot. What we are facing is a situation I described to my nephew one day regards girls. I told him to never do by the dark of night, that which he didn't expect to see on a webcam, because it probably is on a webcam! You have no privacy. The issue is what you do and how you react to it.

        Remember that a dishonest political prosecutor or dishonest official might well take custody of this data some day. It will all be there just waiting for his use.

        • So, let me get this straight...

          You start off by telling us that you won't tell us what the real purpose of the program is (1), but you tell us that it isn't about national security (2). You tell us, wrongly, that Al Qaeda has nothing to fear from the actual program (3)+(A), not what you describe, which is the Total Information Awareness project. Apparently just on the edge of self-restraint, you let on that the program would be a powerful tool to blackmail members of Congress (4) but don't quite cross the
    • by vertinox (846076) on Sunday May 14, 2006 @07:31AM (#15329131)
      "National Security" has become the new "We Do This For Our Children".

      I've been thinking of a new slogan to counter the "National Security" argument.

      Cowardice is unpatriotic.

      Any time you do something out of fear of your safety you are now unpatriotic.

      If anyone ever brings up argument that restricting freedoms and over powerful government is ok because of security concerns, just call him a coward and tell him you just labeled him "unpatriotic" for not being brave like the founding fathers or your grand pappy fighting on the beaches during WWII.

      We should accept that our freedom comes at a price, and if we die by the hands of those against our open society than that is what we must accept this cost and we must brave about it.

      Caving in to fear is the most "unpatriotic" thing an American can do as a citizen.

      Sure, it would be a meme tactic, but I'm tired of seeing people labeled "unpatriotic" because they don't support "national security".
  • Buckle Up (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Saturday May 13, 2006 @06:28PM (#15326934)

    The unrest against the goverment's tyranny is reaching a critical point.

    Expect another 'terrorist act' real soon to distract us from the issue of our eroding civil rights.
    • Re:Buckle Up (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DrunkenTerror (561616) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @06:35PM (#15326966) Homepage Journal
      Surely you're not implying the administration uses the Problem-Reaction-Solution [wikipedia.org] tactic to influence public opinion?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Among the telecommunications companies, stands only 1 decent company: Qwest.

      In a recent news article [latimes.com], the "Los Angeles Times" reports, " USA Today, which disclosed the program this week, reported that Qwest had refused to turn over its phone records because it believed it would be illegal. Qwest urged the NSA to get a court order, but the agency refused, the newspaper reported.

      In a statement Friday, the attorney for former Qwest Chief Executive Joseph Nacchio said the government approached the company i

  • by mikesd81 (518581) <mikesd1@veri z o n .net> on Saturday May 13, 2006 @06:29PM (#15326940) Homepage
    What we need is an itelligent judge that isn't afraid to intepret the law and who will stand up for the American citizens of this country. I don't deny that we're in a time where we need some kind of safety net, but we don't need to give our liberties. If this all keeps going on the way it has been, the terrorists the gov't is seeking so hard to stop will win by splitting America apart.
    • by suv4x4 (956391) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @06:44PM (#15327005)
      I don't deny that we're in a time where we need some kind of safety net

      Shit, the propaganda is working eh...

      The very fact you consent we're in a "time where we need some kind of safety net" means brainwashing worked. We're not in any kind of time. I'd say that the amount of terror US gets is disproportionally small to the amount of terror US applies to some countries in the rest of the world.

      What we need really is to stop brainwashing, stop propaganda, stop the war and civil right erosion engine, stop snooping and concentrate on far less self-destructing activities.

      But I'm a dreamer.
      • What I meant by safety net is nothing to do w/ the gov't spying on the citizens. I mean we need heightened security at borders, better ways to stop form frauds like passports and what not. Not spying. Never is spying on the people of your country ever Okay, even if in the name of National Security. And that phrase, "in the of NS", has been used for so many things that it's become even less believable and used more for a free pass card.
        • Here here! There is no shame is saying that people deserve to be safe, and that there are many valid threats at a federal, state and local level (to be addressed accordingly).

          However, I can certainly understand the anger some feel in regards to the "fear mentality". This historically effective strategy has been abused in recent years, and even the dimmest Americans are coming to accept that.
      • I'd say that the amount of terror US gets is disproportionally small to the amount of terror US applies to some countries in the rest of the world.

        Site please. I'd say your wrong.

        But I'm a dreamer.

        Yes, yes you are. An irrational one at that.

        I'm sorry if you find this response to be insulting. But the truth must be brought to your attention. Why do you like embarrassing yourself? I'd like to think your smarter than that.
        • by BetaJim (140649)

          I'd say that the amount of terror US gets is disproportionally small to the amount of terror US applies to some countries in the rest of the world.

          Site please. I'd say your wrong.

          Plenty of citations can be had by just looking at Latin America. The history of U.S. involvement in these countries is awful, the fact that the U.S. has tore down democracies in various Latin American countries and replaced their governments with dictators is mind boggling. Isn't the U.S. supposed to support democracy?

          T

  • by ZSpade (812879) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @06:30PM (#15326943) Homepage
    Or the Government that bullied them into handing over the information? Though I imagine the telecom companies are an easier target, so where the money is, so goes the lawyers.
    • The telecoms in question (Verizon, SBC/AT&T and BellSouth) handed records over whereas Qwest did not. Assuming there was bullying, it wasn't enough to convince Qwest's previous CEO in the past and current CEO. More likely the other three RBOCs handed over the records with no questions asked.
    • Did they hand the info over because a law forced them to, or did they because the gov came over and said "you better do"?

      Big difference.

      If there's a law that forces them, the telcos can't be held responsible. If they did without any force, sue them into the ground.

      It could be VERY interesting if we have conflicting laws here. In that case, fire the dumbasses who created contradicting laws.
  • US goverment intervenes in Joe Citizen Vs. BellSouth, AT&T and Verizon.
  • Money? (Score:4, Funny)

    by moofdaddy (570503) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @06:37PM (#15326974) Homepage
    When do I get my check?
  • Here's what I did... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 13, 2006 @06:42PM (#15326996)
    First after a call to AT&T, where I had a nice 15 minute talk with the customer service representative (she was aware there was something going on and had some canned response for reporters, but didn't understand what the "big deal" (her words) was, until I explained it to her. By the end of the conversation, she agreed that this was pretty scary... or at least pretended to, but she sounded sincere.) who told me that only one other customer had called her to complain (about 2pm).

    Second, I'm cancelling my phone service w/AT&T and I will let them know exactly why. I'm switching to an Internet phone. Now, I know that this may not be much safer, especially considering any call INTO a bad phone company would be logged and reported to the NSA. (This is why Qwest customers aren't safe if they call anyone who uses AT&T, for example)... but if enough people cancel in disgust, who knows, maybe they'll get the message.

    Third, I'm donating to the EFF [eff.org]. They need our help more than ever. And vice-versa.

    Fourth, I'm ready, willing, and able to join any class action lawsuits against these companies. Even if they get thrown out [slashdot.org].

    Fifth, not an email. Not a letter. But a phone call to my state Senators and Representative.

    Also #1: Has anyone put together a unified wiki/forum trying to "reverse-engineer" the NSA's data mining program from published reports + what IT folks & mathematicians think is possible? I bet with enough collaboration and discussion, the net can figure out pretty close to what they're doing with this massive database/total information awareness program (sounds a bit like they're creating associations between clusters of people, much like Amazon does when they profile you to recommend new products... The more info they have, the more they can cross-reference, looking for patterns and comparing with patterns of known profiles (criminals, political enemies, etc.).. I'd be really interested in learning more about what people think this program is and how it might work, from a technological point of view.

    Also #2: Merry Fitzmas [truthout.org]
    • by lawpoop (604919) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @07:26PM (#15327183) Homepage Journal
      It's fairly easy to figure out what they are doing with the data. With a log of who called whom, when, and for how long, you can build a social network diagram like this [hellomynameisscott.com]. These diagrams tell you at a glance who are the most influential people. In this diagram, 'Ron' and 'Patti' are highly connected people. It's likely they are in a close relationship with each other.

      If you wanted to destroy a terrorist network as quickly and cheaply as possible, you simply need to figure out the people at the nexuses of these social networks, and take them out. (In our example above, you would take out Ron and Patti -- they connect the green and red groups) The problem is, this also works for any other type of organizations -- ones that imposed martial law, for example.

      Now, for most of the time, these social networks are almost entirely informal, based only on socializing. The thing of it is, they can quickly become the basis for any opposition or resistance movements ( think Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement ). If you wanted to go beyond fighting terrorism and, say, impose martial law and rule as a dictator, taking out rebellious, influential people ahead of time, or even afterwards, would make your life easier.

      P.S. There is some kind of calculus that volunteers for congressional reps use for various types of communication. For instance, an email is assumed to represent the thoughts of 5 other constiuents, a phone call, 20, and a paper letter, 50. My numbers are a guess, but IIRC the paper letter carries the most weight as far as representatives surmising constiuent opinion based on feedback. So it would behoove your cause if you also sent a paper letter.
    • much like Amazon does when they profile you to recommend new products... The more info they have, the more they can cross-reference, looking for patterns and comparing with patterns of known profiles (criminals, political enemies, etc.)..

      Ah yes, where would the world be without Amazon recommendations:

      You've committed shoplifting. People who commit this crime also like

      • larceny, second degree
      • mail fraud
      • perjury

      You voted for John Kerry. People who hate George Bush also hate

      • Dick Cheney
      • Karl Rove
      • Mo
  • ...tell me A) where and how to sign up, and B) honestly, and not as a partisan / America suxxx troll, what the chances are of the judge and juries voting with their inner moralities, and not being blinded by political "moralities" along the way?

    Thanks in advance -
    ~Nugneant
  • Maybe not [nationalreview.com]. The article quotes Smith vs. Maryland [findlaw.com]:

    [W]e doubt that people in general entertain any actual expectation of privacy in the numbers they dial. All telephone users realize that they must "convey" phone numbers to the telephone company, since it is through telephone company switching equipment that their calls are completed. All subscribers realize, moreover, that the phone company has facilities for making permanent records of the numbers they dial, for they see a list of their long-distance (toll
    • Because of that ruling several laws, like the ECPA [wikipedia.org] were passed to prevent in essence what the government is doing. The Smith ruling just states that the 4th amendment by itself does not guarantee privacy from logging of phone activity. The ruling is based on the assumption that many people already expected records to exist because of phone company billing practices. So in response Congress passed a slew of legislation preventing access to these records by the Government without a court-order. Qwest, the onl
    • being able to say "Ah, this phone number we found on this captured terrorist laptop was in contact with phones A, B, and C. Are any of those numbers interesting?" has its merits. There's all sorts of scenarios where it's useful to know who a person of interest has been in contact with.

      What you say is true - however, what you say also has no bearing whatsoever on this case. This case is about the telcos handing over the information without a warrant. If the NSA/FBI/CIA/whatever wants any of that information,

  • Disclaimers (Score:2, Informative)

    by nbannerman (974715)
    Here in the UK, if calls are going to be monitored or recorded, companies must inform you *before* the call starts that it might happen. Even if that particular call isn't recorded, they still have to tell you that it might be.

    Five years ago, I worked in the Civil Service and despite being a goverment department, we had to inform our callers that their calls might be recorded.

    If I understand things correctly, we could've been sued, had we not had those warnings.

    If the UK has rules and regulations a
  • Martial Law? (Score:3, Informative)

    by damneinstien (939730) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @07:08PM (#15327106)
    I have to wonder if Bush can claim martial law like Lincoln did way back during the Civil War. If you remember, Lincoln essentially declared an end to free speech for a while and arrested anyone who was suspected of any sort of dissent. They were held without habeaus corpus. Certainly, Bush has and can claim that we are fighting a war on terrorism and that we need whatever information the NSA/CIA/FBI/DoD need to "protect" us. The US is becoming a really scary place to live in.
  • by Esion Modnar (632431) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @07:25PM (#15327174)
    Probably at least $10 or $20 million in "campaign contributions". Yeah, let us help you out with these phone records, gubmint. And be sure to remember us next time we need something nudge nudge wink wink say no more say no more.
  • Obligatory (Score:3, Interesting)

    by X-rated Ouroboros (526150) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @07:27PM (#15327185) Homepage
    The erosion of civil liberty is a threat to national security.
  • Damned If You Do (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rumblin'rabbit (711865) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @07:39PM (#15327241) Journal
    The U.S. legal system is so screwed up that it's now got me feeling sorry for big, evil corporations, no small feat that. I suspect that soon there will be no course of action that any corporation can take without getting sued for large amounts. In this case we have companies caught between the government and the consumer. Not nice.

    60 Minutes had a story about Amgen a few months ago. Amgen were carrying out tests for a treatment for a serious disease. They had to halt the tests when side effects starting showing up - drug companies can not afford to take risks these days once they suspect there are problems.

    So the patients sued Amgen - for halting the trials! They said the treatments were working.

    60 Minutes thought the story was about how greedy and uncaring drug companies are. I thought the real story was about how it's fast becoming impossible to do business in the United States, even with the best of intentions.

  • Get a grip, people (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SeaDuck79 (851025)
    More monitoring than the NSA does is done by many entities in our everyday lives, like your ISP, your bank, your cell phone provider, etc. You give more personal data than this to rent a video or save $0.45 at Albertsons. The NSA can't legally (and no one is seriously alleging they have) done any more than see what phone NUMBER is calling what other phone NUMBER. Anything more intrusive requires a court order and the FBI's involvement. Since this has been going on since 2001 without apparant cataclysmic
    • by hendersj (720767) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @08:39PM (#15327497)
      like your ISP, your bank, your cell phone provider, etc. You give more personal data than this to rent a video or save $0.45 at Albertsons.

      The difference is that you can choose to give up the information they request. I've made a decision to allow these organizations access to certain pieces of information about myself.

      I did not elect to give my government my telephone records.

      I really fail to see the harm.

      There's no harm in not following the rules? Do you really want a government that doesn't feel that the laws put in place are important? That the rule of law isn't important?

      Interestingly enough, when the AG of the US was asked why he didn't just work with Congress to change the law, his answer was "because we believe they will refuse to change the laws". There is actually a reason why government is required to abide by the law, and that's to protect the citizenry from government intrusion. Remember that thing called the "bill of rights"? It was intended that the people - not the government - ultimately decide what they want.

      When the government refuses to follow its own rules and laws, everone is harmed.

      Bill Maher joked on Real Time last night that "Osama Bin Laden needs to find a new reason to hate us - he used to hate us for our freedom." While Maher was joking, he was making a very poignant point: If we give up our freedoms, the terrorists win.

      The complaint isn't that the government isn't doing enough; it's that the administration is breaking the laws that are in place. They can perfectly well do the exact same thing by following the rules - get a subpoena for the records; get a FISA court to approve the wiretaps. They refuse to do that, and then play the "if you don't let us do this, the terrorists win". NO! If we *DO* let the government do this, the terrorists win!
  • some hope? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by e**(i pi)-1 (462311) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @07:43PM (#15327257) Homepage Journal
    • Domestic spying is costly for telecoms
      Snooping and tapping activities at the boundary of legality have made me worried, but costly legal lawsuits could be a good medicine. Like chemotherapy against cancer. Better would be strict laws which prevent such abuse. Lets see how the law dragons fight the snooping hydra.
    • Domestic spying could reveal trading secrets
      There is an other issue which could prevent that we slip into a totalitarian state: telephone calling records of industry decision makers are valuable information. The database can give hints about mergers, stock market developments (company X has suddenly a lot of phone-calls with company Y. Do they merge? Do they launch a new product, lets buy or sell stocks accordingly). In a government, for which business is so closely linked to politics, domestic spying could be seen a free ticket for obtaining insider information. That could become a problem, once it is realized that it exists.
    • Domestic spying accelerates standard encryption
      A third remedy about the domestic spying issue could be technology: not only standard encryption of telephone calls, but also standard masquerading about who calls whom. Such technology will first be used by people who need protection, not criminals, but CEOs or engineers working on new technology, which the competition should not know about. Of course, the people who are the primary targets of those stupid spying activities have long gone to other communication channels.
    An other reason for hope is the existence of organizations like EFF [eff.org] or ACLU [aclu.org].

    "The Eye: that horrible growing sense of a hostile will that strove with great power to pierce all shadows of cloud, and earth, and flesh, and to see you: to pin you under its deadly gaze, naked, immovable."

    LOR, Chapter 2, The Passage of the Marshes
  • AT&T Privacy Policy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by midimastah (462854) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @08:12PM (#15327384)
    After reading over my phone company's privacy policy, http://att.sbc.com/gen/privacy-policy?pid=2506#4 [sbc.com] it seems that they have violated said policy. According to AT&T, "We must disclose information, when requested, to comply with court orders or subpoenas," but there clearly weren't any court orders involved with them turning the information over to the NSA, according to this article: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/business/38 59829.html [chron.com].

    AT&T says that the data is "Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI), http://att.sbc.com/gen/privacy-policy?pid=2566 [sbc.com], and that "Protecting the privacy of your service and usage records is your right and our duty under federal law," although "our local SBC telephone company may also be required to disclose CPNI for legal and regulatory reasons such as a court order," but again there was clearly no court orders involved according to the article about Qwest's refusal to cooperate.

    If they didn't break any laws (which I doubt, but is a possibility) they certainly have broken their promise to their customers. That might be grounds for legal action, false advertising perhaps?
  • by mclaincausey (777353) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @10:20PM (#15327813) Homepage
    The message of current US policy is that freedom is weak. Freedom cannot withstand a single terrrorist attack.

    Do you think that the fear we're living under now is anything compared to the fear of the founders as the much larger, better equipped and trained Royal armies attacked?

    Yet they believed freedom was more important than life itself. That belief is the foundation of our way of life, and this foundation is under attack. Once we lose these freedoms, they will be almost impossible to recoup without force.

    What unmitigated cowards are the people who are willing to cede freedoms to terrorism. And furthermore, there is no proof that ceding these freedoms enables us to better fight terror.

    To the founding fathers, we would look like a bunch of cowards and ingrates. They would be horrified to see the legacy they struggled and died to create collapsing under the comparatively tame threat of terrorism.

  • It is too late... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gillbates (106458) on Saturday May 13, 2006 @11:33PM (#15328063) Homepage Journal

    To catch terrorists this way. By now, everyone, including the terrorists, have figured out that the phone lines are insecure. Those who have something to hide are already using different forms of communication.

    The only possible effective use of this system today is to stifle the political dissent of law abiding citizens.

    It has never been about catching terrorists or protecting children. Yes, occasionally such eavesdropping has helped solve criminal cases; but the primary purpose has always been the suppression of political dissent.

  • The USA PATRIOT Act was a good thing which would not be mis-used. --And that anybody who complained was a left-wing hysterical?

    Funny. I don't feel left wing or hysterical. In fact I feel like I was just plain right to complain.

    Anyway, giant communications companies have been in bed with the government since forever. During WWII, The postal system, Western Union, the various couriers and all the news outlets, (while they don't proudly say so loudly now), will all admit to having had government spooks directing their efforts, reading whatever they wanted and publishing whatever they felt would benefit the government.

    So this current debacle is nothing new. And while it would be satisfying, I suspect that it doesn't matter whether the telcos are successfully sued or not. It's hard not to do as you are told by the Government when you are A) Profit-motivated, and B) Cowardly. --A secret service gun to the head is a great incentive to rat out on your fellow country-men, especially when you are probably built from shoddy moral materials to begin with.


    -FL

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