'That's Our Job': The Government Investigates Cellphone Wiretapping

More

As the government begins an investigation into Carrier IQ's cell phone-tracking software, memories of its own wiretapping scandal resurface
nsa eagle-body.jpg

"Spy on unsuspecting Americans? That's our job," you can imagine federal officials indignantly declaring as they investigate cell-phone tracking by the mobile software company, Carrier IQ. The National Security Agency began secret, illegal surveillance of our phone calls and Internet activities in 2001, as we belatedly learned in 2005. Yes, 2005 is a long time ago these days, when yesterday seems like old news; but the NSA scandal deserves to be remembered, especially when the government presumes to be outraged by telecom spying.  

When it began spying on us after 9/11, the Bush Administration enlisted the assistance of telecoms willing to engage in illegal activities at its behest. (Former Qwuest CEO Joseph Nacchio later claimed that after he declined to cooperate with the surveillance program, in 2001, the government retaliated, denying the company lucrative contracts. In 2007, Nacchio was convicted of insider trading.) After the NSA program was exposed, complicit telecoms faced the risks of losing expensive civil suits. AT&T, in particular, was badly exposed, thanks to incriminating documents released by a whistleblower and a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. But not surprisingly, Congress intervened. In 2007, it retroactively immunized the companies for illegal activities authorized by the president. As the late, disgraced Richard Nixon explained, prematurely, "when the President does it, it's not illegal." Voting in favor of telecom immunity, then candidate and Senator Obama apparently agreed.  

The recent history of illegal government/corporate surveillance and retroactive Congressional approval of it won't justify any offenses allegedly committed by Carrier IQ -- or will it? The FBI has declined to confirm or deny its use of Carrier IQ data, which could be illegal; major telecoms could also be liable for using tracking software. But perhaps neither government agents nor telecoms need worry. Perhaps they can rely on Congress to ensure that whatever surveillance is illegal now will not be illegal for long.

Image: EFF/Flickr

Jump to comments
Presented by

Wendy Kaminer is an author, lawyer, and civil libertarian. She is the author of I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Is the Greatest Story Ever Told?

A panel of storytellers share their favorite tales, from the Bible to Charlotte's Web.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

From This Author

Just In