Owner of small Utah ISP describes how the NSA got him to install surveillance equipment
By End the Lie
For the first time since Edward Snowden leaked information on the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, the owner of an ISP has publicly discussed how the NSA got him to install equipment to directly spy on one of his customers.
Pete Ashdown, the CEO of XMission, detailed his experience when he received a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant in 2010 which forced him to allow the federal government to monitor a customer of his.
Of course, like all FISA orders, it also contained a broad gag order, which still prevents him from telling all the details.
According to what Ashdown wrote for Buzzfeed, the request he received in 2010 was especially difficult because he was completely unable to fight it.
“The FISA request was a tricky one, because it was a warrant through the FISA court — whether you believe that is legitimate or not,” Ashdown wrote.
It was also different from the other warrants he was served because the NSA and FBI sought to place monitoring equipment to focus on a particular website which “was very benign,” according to Ashdown.
Ashdown said he was served with an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that was three or four pages of text, all of which he was unable to copy.
He was, however, able to take notes about the technical aspects of what they wanted him to do.
He had to help the agents “set up a duplicate port to tap in to monitor that customer’s traffic. It was a 2U (two-unit) PC that we ran a mirrored ethernet port to.”
Ashdown eventually had a box in his facility that was capturing all of the traffic sent to his customer. He did not remember if it was connected to the internet, but wrote that it was likely capturing all data to a hard drive for later analysis.
“How long is this going to go on?” he asked six months after the box was placed in his facility. “I don’t know,” they said, and it remained there for nine months total.
Speaking of the gag order he was served, Ashdown said, “These programs that violate the Bill of Rights can continue because people can’t go out and say, ‘This is my experience, this is what happened to me, and I don’t think it is right.’”
However, Ashdown did say that he can see why gag orders are issued, writing that there is definitely a need for secrecy when dealing with a criminal probe, but that doesn’t mean a permanent gag order is permissible.
“The FISA court should be a public court, and documents should be sealed for a set period of time, [to] let people audit the actions later,” he wrote.
“In 2010, Nicholas Merrill, the owner of a small ISP called Calyx, had a gag order partially removed after years of litigation, making him one of the only people to have successfully done so,” the Verge notes.
The location of XMission is interesting, to say the least, since the NSA is building a massive data center in Utah, as the Verge pointed out.
Ashdown finishes his piece by pointing out that many companies are making a pretty penny for helping the government conduct surveillance.
“It isn’t worth it to me to do that kind of wholesale monitoring at any price, and lot of companies disagree with that, because it is a financial issue for them,” he wrote. “[They say] if it is worth this much profit, let’s go for it. The return for standing up for people’s constitutional rights and privacy is much greater and more satisfying.”
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