Sunday, November 26, 2006

"And Now a Word from Big Brother..."

Yesterday, when I opened my AT & T phone bill which was, as usual, ridiculously high given that I use my cell mostly, to my surprise came the following notice:

"Mandated Messages from the California Public Utilities Commission Rules for Monitoring Calls:

California laws strictly protect your right to privacy:

Your telephone calls may not be intercepted, monitored, or recorded unless you agree to it. Your call can only be monitored and/or recorded if:

. Everyone on the call agrees; or
. You hear a beep or warning every 15 seconds; or
. Law enforcement or national defense agencies get special permission."

Remember, last January, when the telecommunications monopoly was involved in a much-publicized class action lawsuit, filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in which it was alleged, in San Francisco federal court, that they have opened their facilities up to the National Security Agency, and that they "assist the government in its secret surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans."

EFF asserted that this covert practice of cooperating with federal so-called "anti-terror" agencies flagrantly violates free speech. An AT & T spokesman, at the time, said that they "don't comment on matters of national security." (CNET)But a Los Angeles Times article, last December 26th, article references an anonymous source's claim that the NSA has a "direct hookup" into an AT&T database that stores information about all domestic phone calls, including how long they lasted.

The Bush administration cites the "state secrets privilege," as delineated in a 1953 case, 1953 case, which allows the government to overturn any litigation that might result in the disclosure of military secrets. If the Bush administration does intervene, EFF could have a formidable hurdle to overcome: the so-called "state secrets" doctrine.

Further, on November 17th, a federal district judge rejected the Bush administration's request to put the EFF lawsuit on perennial hold. U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker said the lawsuit could continue despite the fact that the appeals process, and arguments by the Justice Department that further the court proceedings themselves are a danger to national security.

Clearly, the "mandated message" I got with my monthly phone bill is an effort at making full disclosure, but if you continue raping someone, it doesn't matter how many times you say you're sorry.

What can be more disturbing than to think that even one dime of our phone bill goes to pay the fees of the behemoth law firms that defend monopolies, like AT & T, in their indefensible invasions of privacy. What's more, I don't know about you, but I plan to start counting between beeps.