Verizon: 'No comment' on FISA court challenge, as Foursquare, WordPress join anti-secrecy fight

Verizon: 'No comment' on FISA court challenge, as Foursquare, WordPress join anti-secrecy fight

Summary: While Verizon remains mum on challenging any secret U.S. court order that authorizes the mass vacuuming of U.S. and international data, a growing number of technology firms are calling on Congress for greater transparency and data request reporting.

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TOPICS: Security
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Verizon is in a real pickle.

As a result of the first round of leaks by former U.S. National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, we know that Verizon is subject to a secret U.S. court order, in which the telecoms giant must hand over every shred of data it has to the U.S. government for its mass surveillance efforts.

The telco knows it. The U.S. government knows it. And we — dare I say "thanks" — to Snowden, now know it too. 

Because the order was so broad and encompassed almost every shred of Verizon customer data, we can all but assume that other major telecom companies are under similar orders. It ties in with the NSA's "Upstream" program, which ZDNet's investigative work detailed between the second and third major rounds of leaks. 

We can assume, but we may never know for sure. 

Speaking to a Verizon spokesperson on the phone early Monday, the company declined to comment on whether or not it will challenge any court order — that may or may not exist in the company's eyes. 

It comes just days after Verizon's vice president of national security policy Marcus Sachs reportedly made controversial comments in regards to customer privacy. "Don't look at us to protect your data. That's on you," according to writer Jill Scharr, speaking to him last week at the Cyber Security Summit 2013 in New York City.

Sachs, also on the phone, claimed the comments were "taken wholly out of context," but confirmed the quotes were accurate. 

One person with knowledge of the situation told ZDNet that the company, as a telco, is heavily regulated and the laws it falls under are far greater than the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which apply more so to software and technology companies. Under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, a telco can be forced to hand over "all tangible things," including customer data. He added that Verizon may have filed a case under seal, but it would not be allowed to disclose any information until a time where the documents were released by the court.

Meanwhile, the Microsoft's, the Yahoo's, the Google's, and the bevy of other firms ready to take on the U.S. government, are drumming up support with more firms adding themselves to the list to demand U.S. government data requests.

Now, Foursquare, Twilio, and Automattic, the creator of WordPress.com, have added their names to the list, joining Apple, CloudFlare, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Yahoo, among others, calling on Congress for greater transparency.

In a letter to Congress, the technology giants and startups asked for Washington to "quickly move forward to consider legislation that would provide greater transparency around national security-related requests by the U.S. government to Internet, telephone, and web-based service providers for information about their users and subscribers."

They voiced their "strong support" for the proposed Surveillance Transparency Act 2013 and the Surveillance Order Reporting Act 2013, which would clarify that companies have the right to publish basic information about the requests they receive. 

These two acts would include the reporting of both National Security Letters (NSLs) as well as orders received under FISA.

NSLs, which were greatly expanded under Section 505 of the Patriot Act, allows the U.S. government to gag a company from disclosing certain facts, such as whether or not a person, or a number of people, were targeted for specific reasons. This provision means that while companies have been allowed to disclose a numerical range of orders it received, they have not yet been permitted to disclose the exact number of gagging orders they have been forced to comply with. 

The argument is that the number of NSLs disclosed by companies does not threaten national security. Everyone knows that NSLs exist, thanks to court action in the not-so-distant past. Also, the provisions of the law spell out such capabilities.

Separately, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Yahoo have all filed motions in the secretive FISA court (FISC) to allow them to release aggregate data about the number of requests they receive from U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. 

The U.S. Justice Department is expected to file a motion blocking the request on Tuesday.

Here's the letter in full:

Topic: Security

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22 comments
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  • Just a PR Stunt By The Telecoms

    This is just a PR Stunt by the telecoms to try and smooth over (rightfully) angry customers. Nothing of any real measure is going to happen. Even if some so called ACT did get passed we all know that burried somewhere deep in it would be langauge that effectively over turns everything the act does; thats how government works.

    If the Federal Government wanted to pass an act that increased the income tax %10 accross the board for everyone (who actually pays taxes and not the uber elite that are exempt through their charitable trusts) they'd call it the '2014 Inceom Tax Reduction Act" and it would lower the taxes on some micro percentage while jacking it up for everyone else.
    BlueCollarCritic
    • This is just like the KGB

      The CEOs of those tech companies listed can't talk about it, or they will be arrested and jailed.

      PR stunt or not, free speech does not exist any more.

      These companies have to hand over data about both Americans and foreigners, and if they tell anyone, the secret police come and take them away. Isn't this just like the Soviet Union in the old days?
      Vbitrate
    • They lied before, they will lie again.

      That's the futility of this effort; the Feds could well "agree" to stop doing illegal acts, but because it's all black ops, nobody (even the Supreme Court) would ever know for sure. The only thing that would stop them is to cut off their funding and put some of the top honchos in prison. And that ain't going to happen. It's an old axiom, but once a right or a freedom is lost, the government will *never* give it back.
      terry flores
  • Hasn't Government Spying Being Debunked Already?

    I'm pretty sure that most of the media along with the majority of the social elite have for years been debunking the idea that the Fedearl Government is performing massive surviellence on all Americans.

    What gives ZDNet?

    How about you Zach? Prior to the Snowden leaks didn;t you at least once, twice or more dismiss (as conspiracy theory non-sense) any claims that the Feds were mass spying on all of us?
    BlueCollarCritic
    • Erm, nope

      You should probably go back and read my Patriot Act work, dating back to 2011.
      zwhittaker
  • I still say they should disclose the info in a regulatory filing

    in a foreign jurisdiction and if FISA/NSA complains, respond, "We were required by law to disclose the information."
    Rick_R
  • So what does the Declaration of Independence or Constitution mean anymore??

    As I look at this is just reminds me of what reasoning there was for the Revolutionary War. We simply wanted Britain off our backs. Now our own Government wants to move into this same direction. Of course certain aspects have already taken place that now restricts this once free country. What is a larger joke, is the US also wants to impose our way of life upon other countries! Sorry, I believe in freedom. I do not believe our government has the right to stick their noses into our emails, forums, etc! The only way I find any viability to this spying is if someone makes a direct threat on our government! Otherwise is wrong. The internet is a great tool for learning and business and should be regarded as such! I really miss America and hope one day it will return in full!
    bbosak2143
    • Baloney threats are the excuse.

      Scattered statements made by the government say that people are threats to "national security" if they have expressed any grievances against the government (e.g. complaining about taxes or government spying) on the grounds that this indicates a motivation to overthrow the government while killing people. They also flag people as "terror suspects" if they look at anything classified as containing "conspiracy theory" information according to its inclusion of certain keywords, which means that you too count as a "terror suspect" if you even come across any hyperlink that in any way looks like it may mention a conspiracy theory. You also count as having contact with funders of terrorism if you in any way communicate with any foreigner "suspected" of funding terrorism, which, by definition, technically means that you count as a terrorism backer and affiliate if you *receive* phishing or other scam emails from "Dr. Barrister" whatever "from Nigeria's central bank" or anyone else. In essence, therefore, everybody is classified as a terrorism suspect, which according to the so-called PATRIOT Act means that everybody can be treated as a war criminal with no rights and can be assassinated by snipers or predator drones or be thrown in prison permanently with no trial or any publicly disclosed justification supposedly to avoid "compromising" "intelligence sources", and have b.s. confessions extracted from them if somehow necessary using "enhanced interrogation techniques". This is not a "war on terror". It is a war *of* terror made possible through an *anti*-patriot act.
      Jorge Gonzalez
    • legality

      It's obviously illegal, and incompatible with US Constitution.

      Either

      a/ Stop it, and jail people who breach the law/constitution
      b/ Petition to make it legal.

      Stop the obfuscation and secrecy in the middle, as it makes the US NSA and the UK's GCHQ appear worse (and utterly hypocritical) than the enemy they are trying to counter. At least the KGB of the past, were fairly up front about what they were about.
      neil.postlethwaite
    • Yeah, but

      Their reasoning is that to 'protect' us they MUST examine ALL data both foreign and domestic. How would they know there was a threat if they didn't? I'm being the Devil's advocate, I am NOT supporting it.
      Personally, I don't think there is any actually organized terrorism IN the US. I think that the stuff (other than the Sept. 11 onslaught) is by rogue or malcontent factions or people - you know, like serial killer wannabes. I could write a book on how to bring America to it's knees thru terrorist acts. Uh Oh, the internet police are coming down the driveway, I gotta go.
      itsme@...
  • The Patriot Act is a bad law. PERIOD.

    People under the Cheney administration (Bush was just the ventriloquist's dummy in that administration, by Cheney's own account) were so paranoid that Americans would see through their pathetic attempts to clean up earlier messes that the Patriot Act was passed into law without regard for what might happen. Consider the following:
    Our founding fathers never included a 'Department of Homeland Security' even though they could have done so. In fact, during any threat to the United States, there was never any such organization. The rise of Al Capone did not create a DHS (that was what ATF Agents and FBI agents did). The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor did not create a 'DHS' - that was the Pentagon, the President, and the FBI that rounded up the Japanese Americans and interred them. The selling of plans for the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union did not create a DHS, but it gave more emphasis to the CIA and the FBI. The DEA was formed to combat the war on drugs. The Coast Guard kept us safe after WWII, but got lax. The Border Patrol kept our borders safe from invading Mexicans and Canadians, and yet we still got hit on 9/11. All of the agencies knew something was going to happen. Cheney and Bush were briefed in April that something was going to happen. They ignored it until September 12, then they 'kept us safe' by closing the barn door while watching the horses' asses fade into the sunset. They passed a law to allow them to consolidate all of the power into the hands of one agency, and eventually into one man's hands. This is exactly what our forefathers feared. This is exactly what dictators do before they dismantle free nations. This is exactly what was planned.

    The Patriot Act allows the government to see what books you may have read, what classes you may have taken, what websites you visit, what phone-sex numbers you call, and what you post online all without getting a warrant, in flagrant violation of the fourth amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America - which George W. Bush called '...just a piece of paper,' showing his stupidity. The Constitution was written on parchment, which is a form of leather usually made from sheep's skin, and is thus more durable than papers of the day.

    Also, I don't know how much stock I can put into criticisms by a comment written by someone who does not even know how to spell 'income', or that the per cent (%) sign follows the number, or spells Federal 'F-e-d-e-a-r-l' or makes any of several dozen grammar, spelling, or punctuation mistakes in his post.

    Now, with all that said, yes, Verizon is being quiet, probably in fear of the gag order, or of losing their virtual monopoly on certain services. In fact, I suppose they are hoping their competitors will get slapped down hard and counter-sued by the FEDERAL government and Verizon will be able to pick their service contracts up for a song. When the Supreme Court decided that the 18th Amendment was unconstitutional, the Congress acted to repeal it. The same can be done with the Patriot Act - even though it is not a Constitutional Amendment. Funny thing, though, the Cabinet posts were created by the Constitution originally, but I do not recall seeing one creating the 'Secretary of Homeland Security' and putting his order of succession above the Speaker of the House.
    Garry Hurley Jr
    • No executive departments were created by the Constitution

      Indeed, the U.S. Constitution mentions only five offices: President, Vice President (ex officio President of the Senate), President pro tempore of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Chief Justice. All other federal offices and agencies were created by Congress. To that extent, the office of Secretary of Homeland Security is just as legitimate as that of Secretary of State.
      John L. Ries
    • Repeal ?

      It should have has a sunset clause, repealing it after 5 years.
      neil.postlethwaite
  • Nothing Washington is going to get any airtime while they block Obama-care

    They are too busy in-fighting to do their jobs.
    balsover
  • who to be blamed?

    If Verison hands in clients' data to the governmnent LEGALLY, they have nothing to be blamed on.

    The VP of the Verison is telling the true: "Don't look at us to protect your data. That's on you,"

    There is not secret in the Internet. if you do not want others see something, remove it. Do you think Obama knows about this???
    SmilingGuy
    • re: who to be blamed?

      > There is not secret in the Internet.

      *you* do not have a 4th amendment claim because *you* have no expectation of privacy when you give information to the telco/isp. But the telco/isp *does* have an expectation that it can keep its business records private.
      none none
  • "ZDNet's investigative work"

    I don't think investigative means what you think it means.
    none none
  • Every telcommunication comapny

    If the government is mining personal data from one company it is very likely that it will make similar demands on the other companies
    Graciousstore1
  • It's clear

    It is quite worrisome that American tech companies and telco's do not have managers with the balls to go against absurd court orders and tell their customers in general terms what is going on. One may assume that the same sad mentality is prevalent in all Anglo-American countries. Soon Europe is released from the American lapdog country England, what means they can offer a Rheinland alternative. It is pretty bad that Americans are stuck with their telco's but with some reinventing they can safely store their data in European countries except for Sweden and Finland.
    rhon@...
    • Only the "DHS" is above the law.

      The managers of these companies cannot break laws even if those laws are blatantly unconstitutional and wrong. The government can still send heavily armed goons there to imprison those managers and steal whatever it wants to steal in any way it wants. The feds have showed up before at 2 AM to rip out businesses' company servers because they felt like it. The feds can and will do whatever they want anyway, and will shut down or coerce whoever doesn't comply.
      Jorge Gonzalez