NSA, Network Neutrality and Domestic Spying: There’s More Data Collecting to come from AT&T, Verizon, and others

All along, the move by the Bush Administration to permit a few giant telecom companies to control the flow of all the data coming into to our PC’s, mobile devices and (very soon) digital TV’s have raised concerns about the government’s ability to more effectively monitor our communications and behavior. The fight for network neutrality has always also been a way to throw some kind of digital monkey wrench into the kind of one-stop eavesdropping our government likes to do. The Bush broadband plan, initiated by former FCC chair Michael Powell and continued by current chair Kevin Martin, permits just a few to control our broadband communications. Among them, of course, are the phone companies nailed yesterday by Leslie Cauley in USA Today: AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon.

The Bush plan has turned over a great deal of the U.S. digital distribution system to these three domestic spying allies. But as cable companies expand their voice service over the Internet, don’t think Comcast and Time Warner won’t also be asked—and line up– as well. These few broadband gatekeepers will know more than our phone calls; they will know where we go in cyberpace and–through location identification technologies–also know we are on the street. It isn’t healthy for a democracy to only have a handful of giants in two industries controlling all broadband traffic. Companies who are always interested in playing ball with Washington. Indeed, it’s the convenience of one-stop domestic spying that may be one reason why the Bush Administration supports the broadband giveaway to the Bells and cable.

Of course, both the phone and cable industry plan to do a lot of spying on us anyway—for commercial purposes (see this page for industry documents from Cisco and others that explain further how much personal info will be collected). Groups such as the ACLU and others had wanted a policy where the U.S. would have thousands of ISP’s—hence making it more difficult for the Feds to line-up everyone’s data. The Bush folks made sure we lost that (they got some help from a number of Dems as well). Now the only choices we may have are companies in bed with the NSA and DOJ. That’s why we need a network neutrality safeguard. It must be at the foundation of digital era civil liberty safeguards protecting our privacy from both commercial and governmental surveillance.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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