Major tech firms sign on to support Microsoft’s claims

Previously I mentioned that Microsoft had challenged, in open court, a warrant issued in the United States that purported to require Microsoft to provide data housed in its Irish servers.

Now, according to Tech Crunch, a number of other tech giants and civil liberties groups have joined the effort:

Microsoft’s case to prevent the United States government from using search warrants to demand data that is not stored in the United States has picked up a number of high-profile backers, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Verizon, AT&T, and, recently, Apple and Cisco.

The final two filed a joint amicus brief, which details their protest of the practice. Microsoft lost its initial suit, as it expected, and has refiled the case. I reached out to both Apple and Cisco for additional comment.

The United States government had issued a warrant for data stored on the company’s servers in Ireland. Microsoft didn’t think that it was reasonable for a United States-specific warrant to apply to overseas and extra-national data.

These companies are clearly at risk if the US is successful, given that those outside the US will not trust US tech firms if the outside users are hung out to dry. The industry has a clear self-interest in these challenges, but the more they make the better even for US citizens.

DEA / AT&T tweets of the day

DEA and AT&T work together

The New York Times is reporting that the Drug Enforcement Administration has been accessing a massive telephone call database created and maintained by AT&T.

The scale and longevity of the data storage appears to be unmatched by other government programs, including the N.S.A.’s gathering of phone call logs under the Patriot Act. The N.S.A. stores the data for nearly all calls in the United States, including phone numbers and time and duration of calls, for five years.

[The] Hemisphere [Project] covers every call that passes through an AT&T switch — not just those made by AT&T customers — and includes calls dating back 26 years, according to Hemisphere training slides bearing the logo of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Some four billion call records are added to the database every day, the slides say; technical specialists say a single call may generate more than one record. Unlike the N.S.A. data, the Hemisphere data includes information on the locations of callers.

You can access a set of slides describing the program here.

This is just what we need, another massive database designed to “get it all.” Congress should hold hearings to review exactly how this operates and how much it has cost to date. And an end to the “war on drugs” would presumably eliminate the need for such a spying tool.

WSJ releases details on additional NSA spying programs

Joining the Washington Post and The Guardian in outing programs operated by the NSA,  the Wall Street Journal is reporting numerous addition programs that collectively 75% of the nation’s data traffic, including domestic emails.

The National Security Agency—which possesses only limited legal authority to spy on U.S. citizens—has built a surveillance network that covers more Americans’ Internet communications than officials have publicly disclosed, current and former officials say.

The system has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic in the hunt for foreign intelligence, including a wide array of communications by foreigners and Americans. In some cases, it retains the written content of emails sent between citizens within the U.S. and also filters domestic phone calls made with Internet technology, these people say.

The NSA’s filtering, carried out with telecom companies, is designed to look for communications that either originate or end abroad, or are entirely foreign but happen to be passing through the U.S. But officials say the system’s broad reach makes it more likely that purely domestic communications will be incidentally intercepted and collected in the hunt for foreign ones.

The programs, code-named Blarney, Fairview, Oakstar, Lithium and Stormbrew, among others, filter and gather information at major telecommunications companies. Blarney, for instance, was established with AT&T Inc., T +0.24% former officials say. AT&T declined to comment.

This filtering takes place at more than a dozen locations at major Internet junctions in the U.S., officials say. Previously, any NSA filtering of this kind was largely believed to be happening near points where undersea or other foreign cables enter the country.

* * *

The NSA’s U.S. programs have been described in narrower terms in the documents released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. One, for instance, acquires Americans’ phone records; another, called Prism, makes requests for stored data to Internet companies. By contrast, this set of programs shows the NSA has the capability to track almost anything that happens online, so long as it is covered by a broad court order.

Inevitably, officials say, some U.S. Internet communications are scanned and intercepted, including both “metadata” about communications, such as the “to” and “from” lines in an email, and the contents of the communications themselves.

The Journal also has produced a graphic showing visually how the newly known programs actually work. If this isn’t a surveillance state, it is hard to understand what else could be so classified.

Six strikes program begins

Starting now, a so-called “six strikes” program has begun with at least the following Internet providers: AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon. It appears that these five ISPs are the only companies implementing the program negotiated with the MPAA and the RIAA Under the program, users will be monitored ad if they are detected downloading copyrighted material, they will be notified by their ISP and become subject to increasing levels of punishment. So much for privacy. Can you imagine the phone company scanning your calls looking for prohibited content or behaviour? Can you trust your ISP with the sort of deep scanning that is required?

If a customer believes he or she is innocent, they can file an appeal (which costs $35, refundable if the customer wins). I would expect a large number of “false positive” claims to be made by the carriers. And I would switch away from these five carriers if you possibly can.

More details here and here.

Tech quote of the day

You lie awake at night worrying about what is that which will disrupt your business model. Apple iMessage is a classic example. If you’re using iMessage, you’re not using one of our messaging services, right? That’s disruptive to our messaging revenue stream.

– AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, regretting that the telco carriers’ massively over-priced text messaging plans are under serious assault.

I think this Tweet expresses my view quite ably:

FCC releases analysis of proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger (updated x2)

The FCC has released its report on the likely impact of AT&T’s proposed merger with T-Mobile.  It isn’t pretty. Among other conclusions, the report determines that if the merger were to occur, there would be a no significant wireless competition in any major US city (with the sole exception of Omaha).

Update: The FCC report was originally at the link shown above, but has been removed from that location. Currently, a copy of the report is available here.  However, the new version of the report is heavily redacted. What the heck is going on here?

Update 2: Via Lauren Weinstein, the original version of the FCC report is available here.

How big are iPhone 4S sales?

Well, here are two interesting datapoints: both Sprint and AT&T set one day activation records on Friday.  Not surprising for Sprint, given that the iPhone is new to that carrier. But AT&T has offered the iPhone from day one, and they say that they activated more than twice their previous record.

As of 4:30 pm ET [Friday], AT&T had already activated a record number of iPhones on our network – and is on-track to double our previous record for activations on a single day. These record volumes may produce slower activations for some customers, though our systems continue to run at record levels.

Disclsoure: I am long APPL.

How long does your mobile carrier keep your data?

Sometimes indefinitely. Check out the details from this formerly secret Justice Department memo.

The nation’s major mobile-phone providers are keeping a treasure trove of sensitive data on their customers, according to newly-released Justice Department internal memo that for the first time reveals the data retention policies of America’s largest telecoms.

The single-page Department of Justice document, “Retention Periods of Major Cellular Service Providers,” (.pdf) is a guide for law enforcement agencies looking to get information — like customer IP addresses, call logs, text messages and web surfing habits – out of U.S. telecom companies, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

Economics quote of the day

We believe the combination of AT&T and T-Mobile would result in tens of millions of consumers all across the United States facing higher prices, fewer choices and lower-quality products for their mobile wireless services.

James M. Cole, deputy Attorney General, announcing that the DOJ will seek to prohibit the merger of the second and third largest US mobile telecom operators. Leaving only two significant operators absolutely would be against the interest of consumers.

1,000 free minutes on AT&T

Have an iPhone? Subscribe to AT&T?

Well, it appears your loyalty to the company earns you 1,000 free minutes. Check it out.

Note: I have not verified that doing this does not involve any changes to plans or plan terms.

Verizon iPhone reviews

Verizon and Apple are now taking pre-orders for the iPhone. And early reviews of the performance of the iPhone on Verizon’s network are coming in and it appears that this phone and network drop far fewer calls, although data is slower than on AT&T.

David Pogue:

… to answer everyone’s question, the Verizon iPhone is nearly the same as AT&T’s iPhone 4 — but it doesn’t drop calls. For several million Americans, that makes it the holy grail.


Even if Verizon’s network is the best in America, its policies and prices are still among the worst. This is the company, after all, that admitted to billing $2 every time you accidentally hit the up-arrow button. (Verizon refunded $52 million and paid the Federal Communications Commission a record $25 million fine.) This is the company that just eliminated its “new phone every two years” discount policy, that just cut its new-phone return policy to 14 days from 30, that doubled its early-termination fee (to $350 if you cancel your two-year contract before it’s up).

Walt Mossberg:

On the big question, I can say that, at least in the areas where I was using it, the Verizon model did much, much better with voice calls. In numerous tries over nine days, I had only three dropped calls on the Verizon unit, and those were all to one person who was using an AT&T iPhone in an especially bad area for AT&T: San Francisco. With the nearly identical AT&T model, I often get that many dropped calls in one day.


What about the trade-offs? Chief among them is data speed. I performed scores of speed tests on the two phones, which I used primarily in Washington, and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, and for part of one day at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. In these many tests, despite a few Verizon victories here and there, AT&T’s network averaged 46% faster at download speeds and 24% faster at upload speeds. This speed difference was noticeable while doing tasks like downloading large numbers of emails, or waiting for complicated Web pages to load. AT&T’s speeds varied more while Verizon’s were more consistent, but overall, AT&T was more satisfying at cellular data.

MG Siegler:

Yesterday, I made a 45-minute phone call from my office.

This seemingly unremarkable statement is remarkable for two reasons. First, I was able to place a call from my office — something which was impossible for me to do a week prior. Second, I made it through the entire 45-minutes without the call being dropped once. Again, this was impossible a week prior.

So what changed? Well, my iPhone changed.

John Gruber:

It’s the same phone. The only difference is the network. And Verizon’s network is better.

That’s it in a nut.