TIME Security

A ‘Nightmare Scenario:’ Vodafone Reveals Huge Global Snooping Program

A Vodafone sign on May 30, 2006.
A Vodafone sign on May 30, 2006. AP

If you're a Vodafone customer, chances are your government has the tools to listen in directly

Just a day after the first anniversary of Edward Snowden’s watershed surveillance leaks, the world’s second-largest mobile phone company has announced that numerous government agencies have direct and open access to the conversations of its 381 million customers across the globe.

Privacy advocates are calling it a “nightmare scenario.”

The Guardian reported on Friday that Vodafone, which has operations in 29 countries, is to release a document describing “secret wires” that allow governments to monitor and record phone calls, text messages, and Internet data use.

The wires, Vodafone says, are “widely used” by a number of agencies.

Stephen Deadman, Vodafone’s group privacy officer, told the Guardian that “These pipes exist, the direct access model exists.”

The 40,000 word document, entitled Law Enforcement Disclosure Report, will be released publicly on Friday.

U.K. civil liberties advocate Shami Chakrabarti said to the Guardian that the fact that governments were able to “access phone calls at the flick of a switch” created a situation that was “unprecedented and terrifying.”

Vodafone said it intends to call for an end to “direct access to an operator’s communications infrastructure without a lawful mandate.”

TIME Companies

Sprint Reportedly Set To Buy T-Mobile in Another Major Merger

SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son Attends Earnigns News Conference
Billionaire Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive officer of SoftBank Corp., speaks in front of a screen displaying the logo of Sprint Corp. during a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. Bloomberg / Bloomberg via Getty Images

The third and fourth largest mobile networks are reportedly nearing a merger that would help them stay competitive against industry leaders Verizon Wireless and AT&T

In a deal that would combine the third and fourth largest wireless telephone companies respectively, Sprint is reportedly close to acquiring T-Mobile in a deal that values T-Mobile at around $32 billion.

The acquisition, which would need federal approval, may happen early this summer, according to the Wall Street Journal, which reported on the deal Wednesday night, citing people familiar with the matter. The New York Times and Bloomberg also reported the story Wednesday.

According to those reports, Sprint would pay around $40 a share for T-Mobile, a premium of 17 percent on Wednesday’s closing price. It would also owe T-Mobile about $1 billion if the deal falls through, meaning Sprint’s making a big bet that regulators will allow the merger to pass unimpeded.

The Sprint/T-Mobile deal follows AT&T’s recent move to acquire DirecTV, which would reinforce AT&T’s position as the company’s second biggest wireless provider, following Verizon Wireless. Sprint and T-Mobile may in fact argue to regulators that joining forces is the only way to stay competitive with Verizon Wireless and AT&T in the long-term.

[WSJ]

TIME Internet

The Internet As a Human Right

An audacious idea whose time has come

Kosta Grammatis likes to think big.

In 2011, around the time of the Arab Spring, Grammatis grew frustrated at the ways governments can pull the plug on people’s Internet access as a form of social and political control. He wanted to figure out how to circumvent political and physical obstacles and bring digital media to anywhere it was otherwise unavailable. He and some colleagues set out to buy a satellite from a bankrupt company and use it to beam connectivity to places like Tunisia. That plan turned out to be harder to realize than to it was to imagine.

But Grammatis, a web evangelist, is a true believer in the good things that can happen in a more interconnected world. He recalibrated his thinking to rely less on expensive orbital technology and more on working with established communications and financial institutions.

But the idea remains big. His new startup, Oluvus — i.e., “all of us” — remains focused on wiring the entire planet and bringing free Internet to the five billion people who do not have access.

In the video above, Grammatis tells the story of how he got where he is now and why this time, the odds of success look good.

 

TIME Telecommunications

Los Angeles Sues Time Warner Cable Over Unpaid Fees

A cable truck returns to a Time Warner Cable office in San Diego, California
A cable truck returns to a Time Warner Cable office in California, Dec. 11, 2013. Mike Blake—Reuters

The city is seeking $9.7M in payments over unpaid fees after Time Warner Cable "blatantly refused to live up to its obligations to the city" after the company received $500M a year from area customers

The city of Los Angeles is suing Time Warner Cable for allegedly cheating on its franchise fees to the city, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.

The city is seeking $9.7 million in payments after Time Warner Cable “blatantly refused to live up to its obligations to the city” said the suit, even as the company received $500 million a year from customers in the city for providing cable network services, the LA Times reports.

The suit claims that Time Warner Cable owed $2.5 million in franchise fees and public, education and governmental channel fees in 2008 and 2009, and $7.2 million in 2010 and 2011.

Time Warner Cable denied the allegations, calling them “without merit.”

The city charges cable companies franchise fees that amount to 5% of a cable operators’ revenues, instead of charging rent for the public right-of-way to install and maintain the company’s wires and cable boxes.

[LA Times]

TIME Surveillance

The Case for Snooping

President Barack Obama talks about National Security Agency surveillance, Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at the Justice Department in Washington. Carolyn Kaster / AP

Obama's liberal critics say his speech on the NSA didn't go far enough. Why they're wrong

It’s not always true that if you’re under attack from both sides of the political spectrum, you’re probably doing the right thing. The smart or moral course is sometimes resolutely partisan. But watching President Obama take flak from the left and the right for his speech on intelligence reform, I believe he’s striking a difficult balance on a crucial topic.

In his speech, Obama defended the essential structure of U.S. surveillance activities. He argued that the National Security Agency is not a rogue outfit, that it plays by the rules and is staffed by patriotic men and women. But in an important admission, he also made clear that after 9/11, the NSA and American intelligence efforts in general went too far. Taking advantage of its unique technological capabilities, the U.S. government did whatever it could, rarely asking whether it should. The President proposed some new checks on decisions to collect data and new constraints on how it is stored and when it can be accessed.

The speech annoyed liberals and conservatives suspicious of government overreach, but reaction from the left has been more anguished. Many voices have begun arguing that Edward Snowden’s revelations show that U.S. intelligence operations have run amok and are illegal and unconstitutional and that Snowden deserves to be pardoned and treated like a hero. The factual basis for every one of these claims is weak. A large number of Snowden’s revelations involve not domestic surveillance but foreign intelligence operations, a standard role for U.S. spy agencies. They show, for example, that the U.S. government is spying on the Taliban and Pakistan. They show that the NSA is spying on foreign leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel and top aides to Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff. Now, you might regard some of these choices as wise and others as mistaken, but there is nothing unprecedented about countries spying on foreign leaders. Obama conceded too much when he promised not to eavesdrop on a host of them. Foreign governments will certainly not return the favor and stop what is often a relentless effort to spy on America’s top officials and CEOs.

There is a gaping hole in the left’s understanding of U.S. intelligence work. The U.S.–its government, businesses and people–is under massive, sustained surveillance from and infiltration by criminals, terrorists and foreign governments. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff pointed out recently that since 2011, cyberattacks on America’s critical infrastructure–chemical, electrical, water and transport systems–have risen seventeenfold. The National Nuclear Security Administration, which is responsible for the country’s nuclear power plants, reported in 2012 that it faces 10 million cyberattacks every day–that’s 3.65 billion in one year. Every major bank and corporation, from Bank of America to Goldman Sachs to the New York Times, faces almost continuous efforts from abroad to penetrate its networks, mine its data, disrupt its procedures and steal its secrets. The effects can range from disruption of transactions to systemic damage that feels more like a military invasion.

It would be impossible to defend against these attacks without allowing intelligence agencies to spy on foreign governments and groups abroad. But it is also crucial that the NSA and others have some ability to enter into telecommunications systems at home to track cyberattacks, figure out where they come from and render them ineffective. Former Justice Department official Jack Goldsmith notes that the New York Times objects to foreign cyberattacks yet wants the NSA to shut down its surveillance at home. In fact, he writes in the New Republic, “To keep our computer and telecommunication networks secure, the government will eventually need to monitor and collect intelligence on those networks using techniques similar to ones the Times and many others find reprehensible when done for counterterrorism ends.”

We all live, bank, work and play in a new parallel world of computer identities, data and transactions. But we do not seem to realize that this enormous freedom of activity in the cyberworld, as in the real world, has to be defended. Just as the police need basic information about your life and activities, the government will need information about the cyberworld. As General Keith Alexander, the NSA’s director, has pointed out, there is no way to defend these systems without getting into them in the first place.

In “Federalist No. 51,” father of the American Constitution James Madison wrote (along with Alexander Hamilton) that in setting up a government, “the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” That is the balance we have to strike, in cyberspace as anywhere else.

TO READ MORE BY FAREED, GO TO time.com/zakaria

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