What the NSA Secret Surveillance Mess Means to Google

 
 
By Ben Charny  |  Posted 2006-05-18 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

There's plenty of Google fallout from a bombshell lawsuit alleging telephone behemoth AT&T helped the National Security Agency illegally monitor millions of its customers.

To catch some people up, electronic privacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation sued phone behemoth AT&T in January. As part of its suit, it uncovered documents attributed to Mark Klein, a former AT&T employee.

The documents, like the one Wired Magazine's Web site published, describes a number of supposedly "secret rooms" at various AT&T offices like room 641A at 611 Folsom Street, San Francisco.

"High-speed fiber-optic circuits come in on the 8th floor and run down to the 7th floor where they connect to the 'Common Backbone,' " Klein wrote. "In order to snoop on these circuits, a special cabinet was installed and cabled to the 'secret room' on the 6th floor to monitor the information going through."

What do these rooms do? Again according to the Klein document: the rooms "give the government full access to millions of e-mail messages, Web browsing sessions and phone calls."

That's potentially a lot of Google Internet searches, Gmail e-mails, Gtalk instant messaging and phone calls the NSA could be capturing. In fact, that's a lot of capturing of any brand of Internet communcations, regardless of whether it's hosted by Google or others doing buisness on the Net. 

Can anybody do anything about the allegedly illegal spying?

The whole operation could come to a halt should the EFF win a preliminary injunction requiring AT&T stop turning over the information. That won't likely happen until at least late June.

On May 17, there were two hours of lawyerly verbal jousting about what to do with the Klein documents, ranging from sealing the records to not sealing them or redacting portions.

In the end, EFF lawyers won the right to continue using the records, which in turn seemingly boosts the EFF's shot at an injunction.

Following a court hearing in San Francisco, Klein said, "I believe I have signficant information to bring to the table. I have struggled for months to bring it to the light of day."

For Google's part, it will have to launch a more proactive fight if the EFF legal effort fails to stop the NSA's operation.

Maybe Google, MSN, Yahoo et al. will object to any direct NSA request to turn over any search sessions, and then launch their own legal battles when the NSA subpoenas the records. In short, Google would channel its inner Google Boy.

But that might not work. In theory, the NSA could then just turn to AT&T, or any other telcos it works with, to find any of the red flag Google search terms of the day.

There are a lot of other options. It'll be interesting to see which one, if any, the likes of Google choose.

 
 
 
 
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