Taking the Fight for Internet Freedom and Privacy to the FCC

The NSA’s warrantless spying on anyone and everyone takes away our rights to connect and communicate. It diminishes our civil liberties and civil rights. It destroys our privacy. And there’s no good evidence that any of these bulk-collection techniques make us safer.

That’s why Free Press and its allies from across the political spectrum are pushing for legislative fixes like the bipartisan USA Freedom Act. The bill from Sen. Leahy and Rep. Sensenbrenner is designed to rein in NSA excesses while leaving investigative tools in place. We’re also fighting bills from the intelligence community that would just cement these bad practices.

And we’re now fighting at the Federal Communications Commission. Today Free Press and our allies filed a petition at the FCC that would keep AT&T and other telecom carriers from handing data over to the CIA — and violating the Communications Act’s privacy protections in the process.

The NSA’s Hand in the Cookie Jar

Keeping up with the rapid-fire pace of the news on the surveillance front has been a challenge. Every new revelation from the Snowden files offers more eye-popping details on governmental overreaches and abuses. These leaks have fed momentum for reform — and have illuminated just how big the problem has gotten.

Two recent stories show the deep connections between government monitoring and certain business practices. Corporate data collection and sharing may seem innocuous to some, and it happens all the time without users’ knowledge. But intelligence agencies are swooping in to exploit this treasure trove of personal information (and companies are often all too ready to comply).

Late Tuesday, the Washington Post revealed that the NSA takes advantage of online ad software to keep tabs on surveillance targets. The agency is “using the small tracking files or ‘cookies’ that advertising networks place on computers to identify people browsing the Internet.” (It almost makes you want to toss your cookies.) But the story notes that efforts to pass “Do Not Track” legislation have stalled.

One particular type of Google cookie seems especially appetizing to NSA agents: a unique numeric identifier Google uses to personalize ads for users across its many search sites, apps and services. Surveillance agencies can use these identifiers, too. They can also piggyback on mobile ad targeting software to track people’s locations.

So when you ask your phone about nearby restaurants, the ad it serves up may come with a side order of spying.

The CIA Wants Goodies Too

Last month, the New York Times and the Washington Post reported on AT&T’s deal to turn over phone-call data to the CIA. This is a business transaction that takes place outside of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that was supposedly put in place to oversee the process and watch the watchers.

But this kind of “voluntary” cooperation from telecom providers may violate the Communications Act and FCC rules designed to protect the privacy of phone-company customers.

Today, Free Press joined Public Knowledge, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Open Technology Institute and other leading media, technology and privacy advocates to stop this kind of government-corporate collusion, which violates longstanding communications laws.

Even if the government isn’t listening to the actual calls, the so-called metadata that telcos collect (about who you call and how long you talk to them) can be used to identify personal details about you. And today’s technology can more and more readily uncover information that’s been “anonymized” in some fashion.

Telecom carriers are not supposed to share your personally identifiable info with the government in the absence of an emergency or a court order compelling that kind of sharing. There’s no such court order or exception that applies to the AT&T–CIA deal.

That’s why we’ve come together with our allies to ask that the FCC enforce existing laws and protect telecom users’ privacy.

Unwarranted surveillance anywhere threatens Internet freedom everywhere. We're fighting back with thousands of advocacy groups and businesses — and, most importantly, with millions of activists standing up for change.