It's Not Just News Corp: Why Telecommunications Companies in the US May Be Spying on You Every Day

20/08/2011 10:40

There is reason to believe that the media we've entrusted to investigate abuses of privacy are part of the cover up.

Wrrter, Nick Davies, broke the story that Rupert Murdoch's News of the World had been hacking British citizens' voicemail messages, including those of a murdered teenager, there was a public outcry. Unfortunately, this is the tip of a glacial iceberg that has the potential to bring down a lot more than the News of the World.

Last year, without due public debate and input, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Justice Department approved a merger between Comcast and NBC Universal that gave the Internet cable giant control over the programming of NBC news.  At the same time, pursuant to the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act, Comcast as well as all other telecommunication companies are required to cooperate with the Federal government in providing the facility for government to search through all electronic communications sent down their pipes.

So presently, the government, with the help of Comcast and other telecommunication companies, can hack everyone's phone and email conversations.   Here also lies a new 21st century media model:  a telecom company that owns and operates the infrastructure for the digital transmission of news and information; simultaneously owns the newsroom; and uses it infrastructure to assist the government in mass, warrantless surveillance of all American citizens.

The News of the World spied on a relatively few number of individuals for the purpose of getting a story.  Comcast routinely spies on millions of people on behalf of government.  The official purpose of such spying is to uncover terrorist plots; however, racial profiling can be used to conduct searches; mass sweeps are warrantless; and adequate judicial oversight of screening criteria and procedures is lacking.  Worse still, in this brave new world, the media entrusted to keep an eye on government abuses of power is now part of this overreaching power structure.

Further, given the symbiotic relationship between media and government, there is nothing to stop Comcast from examining the email messages and phone conversations of rival news organizations, political opponents, and other persons and organizations of interest in an effort to "adjust" its news coverage and massage its bottom line.  In fact, Comcast has maintained that it has a broad right to monitor its customers' email messages and Internet activities.  It has an established history of having spied on its customers as well as preventing them from sharing files.  Further, it is presently lobbying Congress to do away with net neutrality, the principle that assures that everyone, not just giant media companies, has an equal voice on the Internet.  And, in 2008, Chris Albrecht, presently CEO of Starz TV, reported that Comcast's senior VP told him that Comcast was experimenting with installing cameras into its cable boxes thereby allowing it to see into people's living rooms and identify viewers.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department now has good reason to look the other way should Comcast engage in such eavesdropping activities since it is beholden to Comcast as Comcast is to government.   As for the FCC, shortly after voting to approve the Comcast/NBC Universal merger, Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker took a job working for Comcast as a lobbyist.  This latter fact may be more disturbing than the fact that British Prime Minister Cameron employed former News of the World Editor Andy Coulson as his communications chief.    Yet, the British Prime Minister had his head on the proverbial chopping block for so doing, while the curious revolving door at the FCC received virtually no press whatsoever.  Small wonder, of course, that Comcast/NBC didn't cover the story.

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