Monday, May 22, 2006Why We Published the AT&T Docs. To catch the casual reader up, the EFF is suing AT&T on the basis that they have installed a switch to allow the NSA to gather information on all the unencrypted information passing through its Internet backbone. As the case has progressed, the judge in the case has denied requests from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF, and several news organizations to unseal the documents and make them public, so Wired took it into their own hands to publish the documentation. There's a link to the documentation in PDF form here; save it while you can. If the link dies, I'll provide an alternate.
To sum it up, it's thirty pages of info, diagrams, pictures, the lot, and Jesus Christ it looks like Wired has some balls. Basically, they reveal that there is a "secret room" in the AT&T headquarters that requires a government security clearance to enter and hooks into the Worldnet AT&T fiber backbone. According to this document, the room contains a glorified packet analyzer, most likely for the NSA. This is significant because, basically, all data is sent in a packet format, and this program lets you view the data the packets contain. Everything that isnt encrypted would be viewable.
So, they have the capability to view every non encrypted thing you do on the Internet that passes through this backbone. They're doing this by duplicating "all network traffic we see" at major peering points into "NSA equipment". If this is happening at enough places, you can safely assume that any and all non-local Internet traffic is being captured in this manner.
That is to say, if you're a TimeWarner customer and you're emailing/VoIPing/webcam-cybering another TimeWarner customer then the NSA would not see that through the efforts of AT&T. However, if you're sending traffic to most any other major provider, it's quite possible that they would see it, and if you're sending traffic to someone on AT&T, it's guaranteed.
So, if you've ever sent anything in any Internet format to anyone who wasn't down the street from you, you should probably assume that the NSA has seen it or could have seen if it they'd cared to. I can't imagine how this is legal, and because it seems very illegal, I think you should further assume that they are doing other, equally illegal, things with the data.