Source: Don't Worry, NSA Spies on "99 Percent" of Americans' Locations, Call Records
June 14, 2013 3:57 PM
WSJ report cites sources close to agency saying holes in interception are filled by data grabs at a lower level
The Wall Street Journal
, sources close to the
U.S. National Security Agency
(NSA) warn about a potential "blind spot" in their phone record (aka "telephony metadata") scheme that allows them to
track the call records and locations of Americans on a daily basis
I. T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless Make Spying on Americans Trickier...
The source states that T-Mobile's foreign ownership (T-Mobile is owned primarily by Germany's Deutsche Telekom AG (
)) and Verizon Wireless's foreign co-ownership (UK-based Vodafone Group Plc. (
) has a 45 percent stake in Verizon Wireless) made seizing phone records under the Oct. 2001
(Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act slightly harder.
Both companies reportedly at times refused to participate in the program, although U.S. Verizon Wireless parent company Verizon Communications Inc. (
) did turn in information on its land lines, which it solely serves. And reportedly the U.S. government did not challenge theirt waivering cooperation.
Foreign co-owned carriers have reportedly been less than enthusiastic about Bush and Obama administration spying. [Image Source: AP]
But don't worry -- says the source -- Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile customers are
still able to be monitored
anyways. Most of that traffic on Verizon or T-Mobile is at some point routed through connections owned by solely-U.S.-owned telecoms like AT&T, Inc. (
) or Sprint Nextel Corp. (
). Thanks to this wonderful routing, the source assures, approximately 99 percent of phone traffic in the U.S. is monitored by the NSA.
II. ...But When There's a Will, Big Brother Has a Way
A pending acquisition of Sprint
might seemingly shift that balance if Japan's Softbank Corp. (
) wins in its bid for most of the U.S. carrier. But it will likely have little effect.
T-Mobile or smaller U.S. carriers often fill in holes in their coverage by
allowing customers to roam
onto solely-U.S. owned networks like AT&T. This is one spot where the NSA can intercept the phone data.
And ultimately the NSA can always monitor at an even lower level, if necessary -- the high speed telecommunications backbone that underlies both landlines and wireless networks. And that infrastructure is solely owned by U.S. firms -- AT&T and Verizon Business Network Services Inc. (a subsidiary of Verizon Communications). Thus regardless of who owns the cellular carriers, the NSA can (and in many cases reportedly already does) seize communications at the lowest level, eliminating
pesky civil liberties complaints
by foreign nations
Communications can be seized at the U.S.-owned backbone that underlies wireless networks.
[Image Source: AP]
In a letter to
Rep. Edward Markey
(D., Mass.) Verizon Wireless
[PDF] it did turn over records some of the time. It says it responded to 260,000 customer data requests in 2011 (although it did not say how many customers were involved per request). Of those half of the orders were without warrant (due proccess) while approximately half were via a court order or warrant.
According to sources, U.S. officials recognized the foreign leadership of T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless might lead them to buck the data gathering if they pushed the issue too hard. So the feds kept their requests relatively small, knowing they could seize the information they missed further down the pipe.
Recent surveys showed approximately
half of Americans are comfortable with the goverment tracking their locations
Verizon Wireless [PDF]
"If you can find a PS3 anywhere in North America that's been on shelves for more than five minutes, I'll give you 1,200 bucks for it." -- SCEA President Jack Tretton
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