Archive for the ‘telecoms’ category

Ashland, OR unlikely site for terror investigation

June 4, 2008

Ashland, Oregon, the small-town home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon University, would seem to be an unlikely site of a global war on terrorism (GWOT) investigation. But that is exactly the situation for Soliman Hamd Al-Buthe, a former member of Saudi Arabia’s national basketball team and a government official in the city of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Al-Bluthe’s saga began in March 2004 when he received an urgent phone call from two lawyers in Washington D.C.

Most of the call concerned a growing confrontation between the U.S. government and the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation in Ashland, Ore., the U.S. branch of a global Saudi Arabian charity organization under investigation for possible links to terrorism. Al-Buthe had been an advisor to Al-Haramain from 1995 to 2002 and was a member of the Oregon foundation’s board of directors. Just weeks prior to the call, the foundation — a respected fixture in the Ashland community run for years by an Iranian-American Muslim named Pete Seda — had been raided by U.S. law enforcement agents.

What Al-Bluthe did not know at the time was that the call was wiretapped by the U.S. government. (more…)


Warrantless tracking via cellphone

November 24, 2007

Just when you think that there are no more ways that Big Brother in the guise of the FBI can snoop on American citizens, there comes a new blockbuster story that indeed, yes, there is another way for the government has been poking and prying into the lives of Americans without seeking a warrant from a judge.

The Feds have found a new way to violate our Constitutional protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures … except upon probable cause” (If you don’t recognize this phrase, read the 4th Amendment, please). Now it looks like we are even paying for the privilege of being tracked — via our own ubiquitous cellphones. The FBI just goes to the telecoms and says “pretty please” — and the snooping begins. (more…)

Stirring the pot on net neutrality

November 1, 2007

Things are heating up.  First there were news reports and a flurry of  blog commentary.  Now the discussion has moved to Capitol Hill.

Two members of the U.S. Senate have taken notice of Comcast’s aggressive “network management” techniques that have blocked programs for legitimate users. (See my earlier posts on this topic).  They are also wondering about censorship of cell phone content by some telecom providers.

Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Olympia Snow (R-ME) have called for a congressional investigation.  They said that

the incidents involving several companies, including Comcast Corp., Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc., have raised serious concerns over the companies’ “power to discriminate against content.”

They want the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee to investigate whether such incidents were based on legitimate business policies or unfair and anticompetitive practices and if more federal regulation is needed.

The two lawmakers have written a letter to the Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Chair of the Senate committee, asking for a thorough investigation by his committee.  Their concern is that while the telecoms and cable companies have previously argued against regulations to protect consumers as being unnecessary, there may now be a demonstrated need for new legislation based on these recent incidents.

  “The phone and cable companies have previously stated that they would never use their market power to operate as content gatekeepers and have called efforts to put rules in place to protect consumers ‘a solution in search of a problem,” the letter states.

Equal treatment of all content has been basic to the internet since its inception.  In the past, phone companies have not attempted to censor content.  But now recent incidents seem to suggest a trend in the other direction.

An Associated Press report on Oct. 19 detailed how Comcast Corp. was interfering with file sharing by some of its Internet subscribers. The AP found instances in some areas of the country where traffic was blocked or delayed significantly.

and then this:

Verizon Wireless in late September denied a request by Naral Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group, to use its mobile network for a sign-up text messaging program.

There seems to be a pattern here — one that certainly warrants a Congressional investigation and some additional regulations to protect consumers.   I hope that more members of Congress will pay attention to this issue.  It definitely warrants lawmakers’ attention.


Followership from Barack and Hillary

October 24, 2007

Me too! Me too! seems the be the message from the Clinton and Obama campaigns in response to Chris Dodd’s principled stand on FISA — Dodd stepped up to the plate right out of the gate to oppose the FISA compromise (read:  giveaway to the telecoms).   Plus there were immediate statements from Wyden, Feingold and Biden.  Now we have two more presidential candidates deciding that they had better get on board because Chris Dodd is getting favorable press on this.  This is not spine.  This is not leadership.  This is just a rush to not look bad on this issue from people who say they want to be the leader/president of this country.

Look at the statements from the Clinton and Obama campaigns below.  Notice that Hillary gives herself plenty of wiggle room to change her position and support the bill if she gets “additional information”.   Pretty lame, if you ask me.

Chris Dodd may be trailing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the polls, but he’s leading them when it comes to standing up against retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies.

When members of the Senate Intelligence Committee cut a deal with the Bush administration and approved retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that helped the government spy on their customers, Dodd said pretty immediately that he’d put a hold on the bill, then said subsequently that he’d filibuster the bill if the Senate votes to overcome his hold.

That was last week. On Tuesday, in what appears to be a response to a push from MoveOn and others, Barack Obama’s campaign put out a statement saying that if the bill containing immunity for the telecom companies comes to the floor in its present form, Obama “would support a filibuster of it.”

Shortly thereafter, Clinton told reporters on a conference call that while she hasn’t seen the legislation yet, “as matters stand now, I could not support it and I would support a filibuster absent additional information coming forth that would convince me differently.”

Followership, not leadership is what we are seeing from these two supposedly top-tier presidential candidates.  Not much spine but perhaps some cartilage forming.

Comcast blocking more that BitTorrent

October 22, 2007

Looks like Comcasts “aggressive network management” is targeting many more legitimate net users. When they said Lotus Notes, I thought, oh, no, big companies could be affected, not just the little guy — but then I remembered all the money sloshing around in Congressional coffers from telecoms … it’ll take a lawsuit from someone who can show damage from this to stop this practice. This just in from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which does have a habit of filing (and winning) lawsuits.

By Eric Bangeman | Published: October 21, 2007 – 11:15PM CT

Last week, we reported on mounting evidence that Comcast is targeting and disrupting BitTorrent traffic on its network. Further digging by interested parties has turned up more indication that BitTorrent isn’t the only popular P2P protocol being tampered with by the United States’ largest ISP.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation noticed the same sort of packet forging that the AP did (and that Broadband Reports readers did some time ago), and continued its testing to see if other applications are affected. The answer is a disturbing “yes.” The results of additional testing done by the EFF indicate Comcast is sending forged reset packets with some Gnutella traffic. When the EFF ran a Gnutella node on a Comcast connection, the forged reset packets disrupted communication between the nodes.

What’s particularly insidious about Comcast’s packet forging is that it’s transparent to both its customers and those on the opposite ends of the connection. Applications such as BitTorrent and Gnutella retain some of their functionality, but they’ll also appear to malfunction for no apparent reason.

Even if you accept the argument that all P2P traffic is inherently evil, and that Comcast has the right to disrupt it in order to put a stop to copyright infringement, Comcast’s traffic-shaping efforts have apparently extended beyond the realm of P2P and into good old enterprise groupware. Kevin Kanarski, who works as a Lotus Notes messaging engineer, noticed some strange behavior with Lotus Notes when hooked up to a Comcast connection last month.

When Lotus Notes users attempt to send e-mail with larger attachments over Comcast’s network, Notes will drop its connection. Instead of a successfully sent e-mail, they’re greeted with the error message, “Remote system no longer responding.” Kanarski did some digging and has managed to verify that Comcast’s reset packets are the culprit. Instead of passing the legitimate e-mail through its network, Comcast’s traffic monitoring tool (likely Sandvine) is sitting in the middle, imitating both ends of the connection, and sending reset packets to both client and server.

So far, Comcast has been extremely tight-lipped about what’s going on here. The only thing Comcast will admit to is using “the latest technologies to manage our network to provide a quality experience for all Comcast subscribers.” From the look of things, that quality experience doesn’t extend to BitTorrent, Gnutella, and Lotus Notes—and we wouldn’t be surprised to see more applications added to that list.

Whatever its methods and motivations are, Comcast’s actions are giving advocates of network neutrality legislation new ammunition. Gigi B. Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, said that Comcast’s actions demonstrate the need for legislation. “Add this incident to the Verizon behavior on text messaging and AT&T’s censoring of the Pearl Jam concert and it’s clear that the policymakers who kept saying, ‘Wait until there’s a problem’ before acting on legislation to keep the Internet free and non-discriminatory have to wait no longer,” said Sohn in a statement. “We have a problem, and it’s time to act on it.”

We’ve requested comment from Comcast on these latest developments and will update this post as they become available.


Net neutrality and the money trail

October 22, 2007

It was just revealed that Comcast, one of the largest ISP’s, is blocking some kinds of content, namely, BitTorrent file sharing. The company claims that they are just “managing” their network for the benefit of all users but this kind of discrimination against a particular type of content runs counter to the principle of net neutrality, a standard that has been part of the internet since its inception.

Take a look at this article in the Globe and Mail (UK). The key point is that Comcast has not been even acknowledging that they are doing this so there has no way to complain about problems.

U.S. ISP blocking BitTorrent users

Associated Press

NEW YORK — Comcast Corp. actively interferes with attempts by some of its high-speed Internet subscribers to share files online, a move that runs counter to the tradition of treating all types of Net traffic equally.

The interference, which The Associated Press confirmed through nationwide tests, is the most drastic example yet of data discrimination by a U.S. Internet service provider. It involves company computers masquerading as those of its users. (more…)