Like many people in the Denver area, I gripe about Qwest and their terrible customer service, installation hassles, and unasked-for packages on my bill. But today I can cheer for them, as it’s been revealed they were the only one of the four major telecommunications carriers who stood up to the NSA in late 2001 by refusing to hand over a database containing call records for everyone on their network.
Last December we all learned that Bush had been authorizing warrantless (ahem, illegal) wiretaps on American citizens. I’m still waiting for that story to play out in court– although most likely it won’t. At the time, he made it abundantly clear that the NSA was only investigating international calls, because everyone knows that’s where the terrorists are. I guess we were all supposed to feel better that people calling Pakistan and Afghanistan got a little extra love from the NSA, but the rest of us were free from Big Brother.
Not so. Now we learn that the NSA has been collecting call records (number called, time, and duration) for 200 million Americans since fall 2001. It’s the largest single database in the world, and they’re doing it all because they want us to be safer from terrorists. Keep in mind that domestic surveillance of this nature is almost certainly illegal, although cynics like me know the Bush administration will find some way to spin it as a legal move because the President can do whatever he wants in a “time of war”.
In any case, it turns out that when the NSA came a-knocking, three of the major phone providers– AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth– opened right up and handed over their confidential customer information. They’ve continued doing so for the past four and a half years, providing the NSA with periodic updates so the database is complete.
Well, not quite complete. Qwest told the NSA to blow it out their ears, and not to come back without a court order. The NSA made some thinly-veiled threats, waved the banner of patriotism, and invoked the tired “national security” argument… all to no avail. Qwest refused to hand over their data, and after almost three years of negotiations, finally broke off all talks with the NSA. Now, a few years after that, they remain the lone holdout.
Good for them. At least the list of the thousands of phone calls I’ve made for the past four years isn’t sitting in an NSA computer somewhere.