Newly published Snowden leaks show that the UK spy agency GCHQ took extraordinary measures to hide the eager cooperativeness of the country's phone companies, who were apparently delighted to help it spy on the nation and its allies; further, the leak details the GCHQ's internal conviction that their spying violated European law, and thus had to be kept a secret.
The agency fought domestic attempts to make wiretapping materials admissible as evidence lest the public discover the extent of its illegal spying programme, and it sought out sympathetic public figures to discredit opponents and celebrate its spying, including the LibDem peer Lord Carlile. Carlile has been slamming the Guardian for its coverage of the Snowden leaks -- apparently acting as a de facto PR agent for the nation's criminal spy-class.
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Alan sez, "Using a simple (if wordy) graphic, Common Cause has teamed up with Symbolia to produce a Creative Commons-licensed description of how Verizon's lawsuits and lobbying threaten net neutrality."
Big Deal Big Money
This is a photo of telephone electricians learning to climb poles in 1914. There's a WWI pole/Pole joke to be made here, but I leave that as an exercise to the reader. In any event, these dudes are living the dream.
Pole-climbing class for telephone electricians
America imprisons more people than any other nation in the history of the Earth, and those prisoners' only lifeline to the outside world is the prison phone-system, from which they must make collect-calls. Those calls are billed by Global Tel Link and companies like it, companies that offers kickbacks to the prisons that use its services, which bill prisoners' families more than a dollar a minute, hundreds of times more than free-market carriers. GTL is making over $500M by exploiting the vulnerable families of the most emiserated people in America, and its competitors are making hundreds of millions more. 2.7M American children have to ration their calls to their incarcerated parents, undermining the cohesion of prisoners' families and their ability to support prisoners on release.
This point is made in a long and sad article on prison profiteering by Liliana Segura in The Nation. Worse than phone profiteering is the cruelty of the prison medical contractors, who ration vital treatments to prisoners, leaving them in agony and worse. For example, Correctional Medical Services "discourages treatment for hepatitis," leaving prisoners with hep. C to slide into permanent, profound disability.
These problems are much worse in private prisons, who are guaranteed occupancy by the states and counties that contract with them -- effectively, the government promises to lock up a minimum number of its citizens as a condition of doing business with private prisons. These prisons are not subject to freedom of information requests, are not inspected in the same way as public prisons, and have profit-taking built into their billion-dollar business, meaning that every dollar they spend on care and rehabilitation for prisoners is a dollar they don't return to their shareholders.
The ACLU is campaigning against prison profiteers and they deserve your support.
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Robbo sez, "Alternet reports on Verizon's stated plan to overturn the Federal Communications Commission's Open Internet Order and charge selective tolls for access to internet content."
At its core Verizon's attack on the FCC is an attack on the idea that regulators have any role to ensure affordable access to an open Internet. Now more than ever we need policies to protect consumers and users of all communications. And as all media converges on digital networks that means policies that protect Net Neutrality.
While Verizon and other ISPs are already raking in immense profits from connecting users to the Internet, they see even higher margins in being able to tell us where to go once we're online. By charging a premium so wealthy businesses can jump to the front of the line, they're playing a game with data delivery that would shove all other sites to the back.
"I think the people who talk about dismantling -- threatening -- Net Neutrality don't appreciate how important it has been for us to have an independent market for productivity and for applications on the Internet," World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee has said.
Verizon's Outrageous Plot to Crack Up the Internet
AT&T has started sending letters to some of its customers, threatening to disconnect them because they've been accused (without trial or a chance to rebut the evidence) of copyright infringement. AT&T is doing this voluntarily. There is no law or regulation requiring them to do this. It's part of the controversial Copyright Alert System, whose overseeing body had its company status revoked last May.
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In John Wooley's hilarious 30-minute mockumentary The Internet Must Go, he plays a marketing shill hired by the big cable operators and phone companies to convince Americans to accept corrupt, non-neutral Internet connections where your ability to reach sites and services online is based on whether your ISP has a deal with the company offering it.
Wooley's playing a Colbert-esque useful idiot, and he never breaks character as he interviews Susan Crawford, Al Franken, John Hodgman, Tim Wu, Larry Lessig, and many others, giving them the chance to play out the arguments for a neutral, fair Internet. The climax is a visit to North Carolina, where the big telcos have successfully gotten legislation passed banning municipalities from offering high-speed Internet, even in towns where the cable and phone companies have no plans to offer high-speed connections.
The trailer is above, the whole movie is below, but do visit the movie's site for action links and more interviews.
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Michael from Public Knowledge sez, "Today the DC Circuit Court is hearing Verizon's challenge to the FCC's net neutrality rules. It has been a while since net neutrality was in the news, so we created this interactive timeline to remind people of all of the twists and turns of net neutrality so far."
A Timeline of Net Neutrality
This morning, I posted about a series of legal threats sent to TorrentFreak by Comcast's (creepy) enforcers Cyveillance. At the time I posted, TorrentFreak had less than 24 hours to resolve the issue before being booted off its webhost, and was unable to get anyone at Cyveillance or Comcast to answer its repeated emails.
Now, Comcast has changed its mind. Here's an email I just received:
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A fresh set of Snowden leaks show that the UK spy agency GCHQ turned spying into a profit centre for Britain's telcos, who received huge cash payouts in exchange for turning over their customers' private communications and developing spyware to infect customers' computers in order to extract more data.
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For years, Google has intervened in regulatory and court proceedings on the side of net neutrality (except for its embarrassing and inexcusable joint filing with Verizon on mobile rules). But now that Google is running its own gigabit broadband service, it has told the FCC that it's perfectly reasonable to discriminate on the basis of which packets are flowing and how they were generated -- justifying its own terms-of-service that block running "servers." Without this policy, it would be harder for Google to sell a "business" service that was distinct from the gigabit home service.
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Susan Crawford is an eminent telcoms scholar, former government official (who resigned because of corruption in telcoms policy) and the author, recently, of an important book on telcoms corruption and net neutrality called Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age. This book has scared the pants off of big telcos.
Their anti-Net-Neutrality front groups like NetCompetition, Broadband For America, and Media Freedom have been smearing Crawford and her book since it was published, and now, at least 31 people have posted highly similar one-star reviews of her book to Amazon, quoting talking points from these organizations. Most of these reviewers are not in Amazon's "real name" program, and the ones that are work for big telcos and the think-tanks they fund. Mike Masnick investigated the reviews in detail and it's pretty clear that nearly all the five-star reviews are from legit, named, disinterested parties (albeit with a few people who have a dog in the fight, like activists and scholars, and a couple more who say they are trying to balance out the one-star smears); meanwhile, nearly all the one-star reviews are from shills or telco people.
America has some of the worst Internet infrastructure in the developed world, and it's getting worse year by year. It's thanks to the crooked phone companies and their corrupt pals in Congress, the state houses, and the regulators. These titans have the country by its nervous system, and they're so afraid of criticism that they engage in petty, corrupt astroturfing to attack books that call them out. Now is a great time to buy Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, read it, and give it an honest review.
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Andrews and Arnold is a professional-grade UK ISP, providing extremely high-reliability, high-speed Internet connections. The UK government has mandated that ISPs provide an "active choice" regarding network censorship -- that is, customers are meant to have to make an explicit statement if they don't want censorship on their lines. A&A's version of this active choice is simple: If you want a censored connection, you can sign up with a different ISP, or move to North Korea.
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On the subject of book-scanning bringing the 19th century to life, Clive Thompson reviews "Wired Love," a novel from 1880 about telegraphic romance that features some amazingly contemporary themes. As Clive says, "This book is 130 years old, but it could have been written last week."
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Team Telecom is a group of lawyers from the FBI, DoJ, DHS, and DoD who were empowered to enter any US network operations center of companies like Global Crossing on 30 minutes' notice, allowing them to secretly audit and intervene in the maintenance of the Internet's biggest backbones. The employees who dealt with the team were required to be US citizens, sworn to secrecy, and unable to discuss what they did, sometimes even with their own employers.
The security agreement for Global Crossing, whose fiber-optic network connected 27 nations and four continents, required the company to have a “Network Operations Center” on U.S. soil that could be visited by government officials with 30 minutes of warning. Surveillance requests, meanwhile, had to be handled by U.S. citizens screened by the government and sworn to secrecy — in many cases prohibiting information from being shared even with the company’s executives and directors.
“Our telecommunications companies have no real independence in standing up to the requests of government or in revealing data,” said Susan Crawford, a Yeshiva University law professor and former Obama White House official. “This is yet another example where that’s the case.”
The full extent of the National Security Agency’s access to fiber-optic cables remains classified. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement saying that legally authorized data collection “has been one of our most important tools for the protection of the nation’s — and our allies’ — security. Our use of these authorities has been properly classified to maximize the potential for effective collection against foreign terrorists and other adversaries...”
...Lipman, a partner with Bingham McCutchen, based in Washington, said the talks with Team Telecom typically involve little give and take. “It’s like negotiating with the Motor Vehicle Department,” he said.
Agreements with private companies protect U.S. access to cables’ data for surveillance [Craig Timberg and Ellen Nakashima/WashPo]