Secrecy News

Implementing Domestic Intelligence Surveillance

Upon lawful request and for a thousand dollars, Comcast, one of the nation’s leading telecommunications companies, will intercept its customers’ communications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The cost for performing any FISA surveillance “requiring deployment of an intercept device” is $1,000.00 for the “initial start-up fee (including the first month of intercept service),” according to a newly disclosed Comcast Handbook for Law Enforcement (pdf).

Thereafter, the surveillance fee goes down to “$750.00 per month for each subsequent month in which the original [FISA] order or any extensions of the original order are active.”

With respect to surveillance policy, the Comcast manual hews closely to the letter of the law, as one would hope and expect.

“If your [FISA intercept] request pertains to individuals outside the U.S., please be sure you have complied with all the requirements in 50 U.S.C. sections 105A and/or 105B,” the manual says, referring to provisions of the Protect America Act that was enacted last month. “Requests such as these can not be honored after one year and must be dated prior to February 5, 2008, unless extended by Congress.”

Comcast will also comply with disclosure demands presented in the form of National Security Letters. However, the manual says, “Attention must be paid to the various court proceedings in which the legal status of such requests is at issue.”

In short, “Comcast will assist law enforcement agencies in their investigations while protecting subscriber privacy as required by law and applicable privacy policies.”

At the same time, “Comcast reserves the right to respond or object to, or seek clarification of, any legal requests and treat legal requests for subscriber information in any manner consistent with applicable law.”

A copy of the manual was obtained by Secrecy News. See “Comcast Cable Law Enforcement Handbook,” September 2007.

The role of telecommunications companies in intelligence surveillance is under increased scrutiny as the Bush Administration seeks to shield the companies from any liability associated with their cooperation in what may be illegal warrantless surveillance.

Also, there are new indications that the unauthorized warrantless surveillance program pre-dated 9/11. The Rocky Mountain News, the Washington Post, and others reported allegations that the government may have penalized Qwest Communications for refusing to participate in a pre-9/11 National Security Agency surveillance program that the company believed might be illegal.

The Washington Post editorialized yesterday that the telecommunications companies should indeed be immunized against liability, as the Bush Administration desires. Even though it is not known exactly what the companies did, the Post said, they “seem to us to have been acting as patriotic corporate citizens in a difficult and uncharted environment.”

Writing in Salon.com, Glenn Greenwald disputed that view, arguing that patriotism lies in compliance with the law, not in mere obedience to executive authority.

4 thoughts on “Implementing Domestic Intelligence Surveillance

  1. It seems that Comcast is a step above AT&T both legally (AT&T does illegal wiretaps and illegally hands over phone records while Comcast claims here that it does not) and technically (Comcast has 5x faster uploads and downloads than standard DSL).

    My only concern about Comcast at this point is that they are not currently required by law to adhere to network neutrality, as AT&T DSL service is. This is because of technical differences between what is legally defined as a “broadcast service” (Comcast cable) vs what is a “telecommunications service” (AT&T DSL). Apparently Comcast is already routinely blocking P2P file transfer, such as Bittorrent.

    See: http://www.informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=202600785

    I don’t know if this same phenomenon would affect the streaming of video or audio from sites such as http://www.freakradio.org or http://www.democracynow.org, but it might.

    So now we have a choice. Give up our privacy rights by going with AT&T. Or give up freedom of speech by going with Comcast. AT&T also blocks content. The example that comes to mind is AT&T deleted some of the lyrics that a rock band was singing which put down George Bush.

    Comcast’s Internet/unlimited phone/cable TV business packages are now almost the same price as their 3 product home user packages. So it might be worth it for businesses to get T-1 speeds for a DSL price and dump AT&T.

    I still am looking for a company that doesn’t sell or give away or infringe on any of my rights. When such a company is shown to exist, without charging a fortune for its services, I will gladly purchase all of my phone/tv/internet services from them.

  2. *laugh out loud* John, you’re a funny soul, I love it.
    “I still am looking for a company that doesn’t sell or give away or infringe on any of my rights. When such a company is shown to exist, without charging a fortune for its services, I will gladly purchase all of my phone/tv/internet services from them”

    I don’t understand what you mean by att being forced to comply with being carrier neutral. Since DSL utilizes the telephony network and cable does not they are both regulated seperately and differently it’s kudos for comcast and other cable providers for doing it different.

    As a comcast customer I think all these new doings are related to a number of items. #1 is comcast has it’s own network. As big/small as it may be they do provide their own backbone to customers, some may be using more of it then others. Since they aren’t directly putting users online and are routing them through their own network users obviously have to comply with all demands and laws that they list. If you want to do it in private, then your going to have to colo your own dsl equipment at the telco because I don’t think the cable companies are going to scoot over and let you co-locate your equipment at their facilitys anymore then I think privacy will improve with any new companies, they might start out being all for privacy, but once the company grows, they will be just like everyone else.

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