AT&T’s Secure PDF Flub in Spying Suit

Note: this article contains dead links, the url is still in the hover/alt text. Keep the web working, curate content well!

AT&T/SBC buildingMired in the scandal of allegedly turning over the records of millions of customers to the NSA, AT&T recently filed a 25-page legal brief striped with thick black lines that were intended to obscure portions of three pages and render them unreadable. The only problem is… you can copy and paste whatever’s under the redacted sections (link to PDF).

What’s most disturbing is the notion that AT&T is working with the executive branch, as their defense collusion is nearly transparent when you take one section of the redacted text (woops, I guess the best parts weren’t even redacted):

Key factual issues that bear directly on the viability of their legal claims and AT&T’s defenses are subject to the Government’s state secrets assertion and are unavailable.

Compare to recent moves by the White House (from the same article):

Also this week, the Bush administration submitted a 29-page brief that elaborates on its argument that the case should be tossed out of court because of the “state secrets” privilege.

Lawyers for the Justice Department have offered to fly a courier from Washington to San Francisco with classified documents that Walker could review in private–documents that, in the eyes of the government, will convince him to dismiss the lawsuit. (The Bush administration also argues that EFF lawyers should not be permitted to see the classified information.)

“No aspect of this case can be litigated without disclosing state secrets,” the government said in its brief this week. “The United States has not lightly invoked the state secrets privilege, and the weighty reasons for asserting the privilege are apparent from the classified material submitted in support of its assertion.”

So basically, we’re admittedly working with the phone company to spy on you, but you can’t verify whether anyone is violating the fourth amendment because actually knowing the truth would jeopardize state secrets.

No really… trust us, it’s a secret.

Update by Michael Hampton: Consider this: If AT&T didn’t have a secret room, or wasn’t surveilling people with it, why would it need to bother to redact the existence of the allegations of the secret room? If it used the equipment for stopping viruses and hackers, it would be trumpeting this fact all over its marketing pages. If the equipment did not exist, the allegation would not need to be redacted. So what’s going on in the secret room? The redaction itself, I have to conclude, proves the allegations.

Stephen VanDyke

I've published HoT along with about 300+ friends since 2002. We're all Americans who are snarky and love our country. I'm a libertarian that registered Republican because I like to win elections. That's pretty much it.

  1. In case your PDF reader can’t deal with the blacked out sections, here they are:

    Plaintiffs’ suggestion that they need only show that certain communications have been split off into a “secret room” strips multiple elements from the statutes on which their claims are based and glosses over numerous issues that would have to be explored if their claims were ever to be fully litigated.

    Plaintiffs offer no evidence regarding what, if anything, actually happens to any data once it allegedly enters the alleged “secret room.” Plaintiffs’ purported expert provides merely “suggestive” configurations between unknown equipment in an AT&T facility. See Declaration of J. Scott Marcus In Support of Motion for Preliminary Injunction (Dkt. 32) ¶ 74. His strongest opinion, explicitly based “in terms of media claims” is conditioned entirely on a supposition: “if the government is in fact in communication with this infrastructure.” Id. ¶ 39.

    Without either confirming or denying the plaintiffs’ assertions, AT&T notes that the facts recited by plaintiffs are entirely consistent with any number of legitimate Internet monitoring systems, such as those used to detect viruses and stop hackers. Although the plaintiffs ominously refer to the equipment as the “Surveillance Configuration,” the same physical equipment could be utilized exclusively for other surveillance in full compliance with the terms of FISA — which even the plaintiffs themselves would not contend is unlawful. See id. ¶ 40 (“The SG3 Configurations could be used for a number of legitimate purposes.”). The mere existence of these so-called configurations, even if plaintiffs’ allegations were accurate, would not by itself be prima facie evidence of what — if any — information is intercepted or divulged or by whom. And it certainly is not prima facie evidence of any illegality. Plaintiffs fail to establish even a prima facie case that there has been an “interception” of “contents” within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 2510(4) & (8), whether there has been “electronic surveillance” within the meaning of 50 U.S.C. § 1801(f), and whether particular statutory exemptions do not apply, see, e.g., 18 U.S.C. § 2702(c). Certainly nothing compels the inference that the contents of communications of “millions of ordinary Americans,” (Motion for Preliminary Injunction (Dkt. 30) at 11), have been divulged to the government, in contradiction of the government’s statement that communications are intercepted only if the government has “a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al Qaeda,” or otherwise affiliated with al Qaeda. Press Briefing by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and General Michael Hayden, Plaintiffs’ Request for Judicial Notice (Attachment 2) (Dkt. 20).

  2. Well let’s see if I can manage to get all my thoughts in order before making lots of comments.

    Last one, I promise: The section of ‘redacted text’ you presented isn’t redacted at all; it appears just prior to the second section of redacted text.

  3. Ah, thanks Michael… I was a little happy with Preview’s copy and paste function and I mistakenly thought that part was redacted.

    I guess it goes to show that the juiciest scandal is always in plain view with these morons.

  4. I freaking love it. 3 cheers to DM for the scoop, 2 to MH for the x-ray PDF eyes, and another to SVD for finding the story before MH or I did.

  5. If anyone can find an RSS feed for Declan McCullagh’s articles at CNET, I would be eternally grateful.

    Not many people realize he’s one of our most prominent libertarian tech/political journalists and I always end up linking to the stuff he writes for the most part.

  6. Ha. It’s a story I’ve been following closely, but I’m only posting the major events. I had the PDF a day before Declan McCullagh’s article, but last week being unusually busy, I set it aside and never quite got back to it.

    The redacted portions didn’t say anything I didn’t already know. :)

  7. I popped Declan an e-mail a year or so ago about author specific feeds. He responded that he’d look into it, and I’ve forgotten about it since then.

  8. I’m supposed to be working.
    I’m, coincidentally, researching redacting methods; thanks for the great link to the NSA.
    So, has anybody tried using Microsoft’s Redaction Add-in?

  9. I just don’t use Microsoft Word. It saves me a lot of trouble. I also don’t post anything that needs to be redacted. (OK, well, except maybe the update above.)

  10. Wish I didn’t. At home I use WordPerfect 5.1 which reveals all. I will not own Word. However, I’m working for a very large corporation and was one of the last to switch (kicking and screaming). Re-switch, actually. I gave Word a try before I realized how authoritarian (i.e., patonizing) it is.

    Word assumes I do not know how to type. It requires one to violate the first rule of typing, “hands on the home row.” It was written by two-findered programmers for Macintosh owners, which may account for it. Then they added features trying to compete with WP and buried them in hidden menus with random and variable keystroke combos you can use if you violate the second rule of typing, “eyes on the copy.”

    I have nothing against Apple; they put the Dvorak keyboard in the Apple //c. Now that Windows supports Dvorak, I can make up some lost speed, but it is still annoyingly patronizing and authoritarian by default. Authoritarian software is a problem if you’re “forced” to use it. :(

  11. I receive Microsoft formatted documents all the time, but I almost never have cause to send them. So I use

  12. Mike Nelson: Select the text with your mouse. Hampton was just being clever :)

  13. I do that from time to time. Be clever, that is, not redact. In fact, that’s the first time I’ve ever redacted anything. Apparently I’m not very good at it yet, but hopefully with some training from the NSA, I’ll soon be an expert at redacting.