Telecoms File Letters on House Committee's Inquiries on Warrantless Wiretapping
The telecoms have returned letters to the House Energy and Commerce Committee's requests for information about secret warrantless wiretapping programs. The responses seem to have failed to significantly advance the Committee's investigation on government surveillance programs, prompting a diplomatic response from Representative Bart Stupak, chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations: "While I recognize the unique legal constraints the telecommunications companies face regarding what information they may disclose, important questions remain unanswered about how the Administration induced or compelled them to participate in NSA’s eavesdropping program."
The Washington Post's front-page story broadly surveys the various types of government requests disclosed in Verizon's letter, focusing on revelations about the FBI's requests for "community of interest" information.
In a roundup summarizing all the telecom's letters, Wired's Threat Level draws attention to Verizon's ballpark numbers detailing the number of law enforcement requests for customer information and wiretap court orders.
Both AT&T and Verizon tried to argue in their letters that they do not have a responsibility to defend their customers' privacy. Not only does this stance gloss over laws that indeed require them to stand firm against unlawful surveillance, but it's simply weak-kneed finger-pointing. Not only do the telecoms have money and lawyers dedicated to the lawful handling of surveillance, but common sense dictates that they should be responsible for their customers' privacy. After all, they are the only entity standing between the government and individual Americans' communications.
As part of the same investigation, the House Energy and Commerce Committee solicited comments from EFF as part of the committee's investigation of the controversial program. EFF submitted a response on October 12, 2007.