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[March 04, 2014]
Telecoms push back on proposed NSA plan [Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA)]
(Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) U.S. sues Sprint SAN FRANCISCO -- Federal officials have filed a lawsuit alleging that Sprint Communications Inc. overbilled government agencies $21 million for wiretap services. The suit filed Monday in federal court in San Francisco alleges that the Sprint Corp. subsidiary collected unallowable expenses from the FBI and other government agencies while carrying out court-ordered wiretaps and other electronic intercepts. A Sprint spokesman said the company denies the allegations.WASHINGTON - When Apple, Google, Microsoft and other tech giants united in outrage last summer over the National Security Agency's unfettered spying, telecommunications giants such as AT&T, Verizon and Sprint - whose customers are also the targets of secret government spying - remained noticeably mum.
But now the phone companies are speaking up. In closed-door meetings with policymakers, they are taking a less accommodating stance with government and rattling the historically tight bond between telecom and the surveillance community.
"It's been extremely unusual for telecoms to resist any requests from the government," said software engineer Zaki Manian, of Palo Alto, who advocates against mass government surveillance.
"The telecom companies have a long history of providing raw data dumps to the government and typically taking some money in return and calling it a day," Manian says.
Technology companies typically comply with requests for information about individual users but resist demands for bulk data. But telecommunications companies share a connection with government unlike that of any other industry.
They "have been tied to our national security agencies for all of their history," said Susan Crawford, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School who was a special assistant to President Barack Obama for science, technology and innovation policy.
White House policymakers are considering significant changes as public debate about surveillance heightens in the aftermath of NSA spying exposed by former agency contractor Edward Snowden.
The central pillar of Obama's plan to overhaul the surveillance programs calls for shifting storage of Americans' phone data from the government to telecom companies or an independent third party. But telecoms don't want that job.
Phone industry executives have privately told administration officials they don't like the idea of storing phone records gathered by the NSA because they don't want to become the government's data minders. Companies say they are wary of being forced to standardize their own data collection to conform to the NSA's needs.
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