Mystery Telecoms Operator Tried to Block NSA Collection of Customer Data
Published on: 26th Apr 2014
By: Ian Mansfield
The controversy over just how much information US telecoms networks provided to the spy agency the NSA has reared up again after a US court released some redacted documents.
In the documents, it appears that an unnamed telecoms network opposed the NSA's demand for bulk collection of telecoms meta-data, and while initially upheld, the NSA appealed, and won.
The meta-data didn't contain recordings of the phone calls themselves, but did contain the details of who called whom, and when. That sort of information can let the spy agencies track links between people and even track locations.
The phone company that protested is unknown, as the name is blanked out in the documents, but the space in the document is small, suggesting AT&T or Sprint, but certainly not Verizon Communications.
Last December, Federal Judge Richard Leon ruled that the bulk collection of the meta-data by the NSA would probably be illegal, but stayed the effect of his ruling due to the national security implications.
Tow weeks later, a counter ruling was handed down declaring the NSA's activities to be legal after all. It was then that the unnamed telecoms company appealed to the confidential Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) for a determination on the matter.
The issue at the heart of the matter is the possibility that if the NSA collection were to be found to be illegal at a higher court, then the telco's handing over of meta-data could put the telco at risk of legal action from customers.
The telco wanted clarity as to why the collection of metadata should continue while there was still some legal ambiguity about its validity.
However, the FISC ruled that there is no legal ambiguity, and as such, the unnamed telecoms operator is required to continue handing over the metadata to the spies for their own purposes.