The New York Times recently reported an allegedly sustained and multi-faceted effort by the United States government to monitor its citizens’ behavior in the name of national defense and homeland security with the assistance of private businesses. The pieces of this puzzle of electronic surveilling of its citizens by a government causes more than a moment of dismay and a period of concern.
An online news outlet has published details about secret rooms in AT&T buildings where government spies are said to be gaining access to millions of private e-mail messages and other Internet traffic.
The original report came from Salon and reporter Kim Zetter who said two former AT&T employees in Bridgeton, Mo. — the location of the management core for all of AT&T’s internet traffic — revealed details of a secure surveillance room, accessible only by a “biometric mantrap” consisting of a “double door with fingerprint and retinal scanners,” that had been maintained at that network operations center since 2002.
The workers said supervisors had told them that AT&T employees were “monitoring network traffic” and that “a government agency” was using the room. “We were told, ‘Do not try to speak to them. Do not hamper their work. Do not impede anything that they’re doing,’ ” one said. Matthew Aid, a specialist on the National Security Agency, told Salon that the Bridgeton operation bore all the marks of an NSA operation.
While there was no direct evidence the NSA was spying on internet traffic, Zetter was able to build a strong case that is precisely why that secure room was created. AT&T and the NSA refused to comment on Zetter’s story because of “national security concerns.”
In May, Wired News published documents that appeared to support accusations by Mark Klein, another former AT&T employee, that the company maintained a similar, though possibly smaller, operation in a San Francisco building.
NewScientist.com reported that the NSA was financing research into “the mass harvesting of information that people post about themselves on social networks” like MySpace. The resulting data, the site reported, could be combined with “details such as banking, retail and property records, allowing the NSA to build extensive, all-embracing personal profiles of individuals.”
It’s horrifyingly fascinating how this government effort to connect all our dots appears to be orchestrated in pieces using separate private companies to deter detection of a non-severed surreptitious intent — banks for banking records; conservative ownership of personal web portals for access to MySpace data; internet providers who reply upon government regulation to stay in business are required to help monitor and analyze internet traffic patterns and process email keyword triggers — leads the cogent among us to question who we really are and if we actually own a right to any sort of privacy whatsoever.