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We're at Netroots! The Big Telecom Panel

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July 19, 2008

I’m in the Big Telco panel (a.k.a.: “Big Telecom: An Emerging Threat to Our Democracy?” You can watch here, conveniently enough). Ninety-eight percent of American homes are serviced by big telcos, according to Tim Karr of Free Press. He makes his point by asking the audience to boo if they use any of the biggie carriers: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc. They’re inescapable, even to the civil libertarians among us. Karr is joined by the EFF’s Cindy Cohn, Michael Kieschnick of Credo , Matt Stoller of OpenLeft and Nancy Keenan of NARAL Pro-Choice America are the panelists.

Nancy Keenan is talking about NARAL’s experience of a campaign getting caught up in Verizon’s censorship policies. Verizon’s response to NARAL’s request for a short code for their text-messaging campaign? They refuse any messages that “seeks to promote an agenda or disttirbute content that may be seen as controversional or unsavory to any of our users.” Uh-oh. Since 25 percent of the cell phone market is Verizon’s, this was a problem, and NARAL, quite rightly, made a stink that got The New York Times’ attention. After the NYT‘s article about Verizon’s rejection of NARAL’s text-messaging campaign hit the front page of the print edition, the NARAL website saw a 213 percent increase in website traffic, and a 62 percent increase in subscriptions to their text messaging program. Since when are women’s rights “unsavory?”

Cindy Cohn’s up: She’s talking about the AT&T building at 611 Folsom Street that houses the Mark Klein-outednow-infamous, super-secret room (#641A) that’s copying all of AT&T’s telecom traffic and sending it to the NSA. Cohn emphasizes how wholesale and untargeted the NSA’s surveillance is: She calls the splitter in Room #641A “a dumb copy machine;” at least seven other facilities are doing surveillance for the NSA around the country. She’s also talking about Hepting v. AT&T, and tells us the EFF is going to launch a new case against the government in the Northern District of California soon…very soon.

Michael Kieschnick shows a funny slide that illustrates the size of AT&T and compares it to the Borg. He displays the contribution figures to the Jay Rockefeller, President Bush, John McCain, and Steny Hoyer campaigns. A total of $39,449,726 in lobbying dollars since 1990. Wow.

Matt Stoller: the chipping away of our privacy rights, like the process many of us endured to board the planes to get to Netroots, are what what makes a surveillance society possible.

Someone asks how we can get the iPhone-carrying, Facebooking, SMS-ing young’uns concerned about their privacy rights. Karr suggests those iPhone users to write Steve Jobs and tell him to free the iPhone from AT&T’s clutches, and reminds us that Al Gore, this morning’s superstar, is on the Apple board of directors. Apply pressure.

How do we get Mark Klein in front of Congress to testify about the NSA wiretapping program? Cohn admits she’s flummoxed as to why he was never invited despite the EFF’s efforts to get him in front of Congress. Stoller says: “a lot of them believe in the surveillance state.” Would Mark Klein’s testimony reveal something Congress doesn’t want us to know?

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