Google Builds up Walls While AT&T Caves Into NSA

Google builds-up walls of defense.
Google is leading the tech giants in encryption, but AT&T defies public outcry.

Google and social media giants Facebook and Twitter have reacted to the public’s response when they learned that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been tracking online communications without corporate and public knowledge. The news that the tech giants have been erecting higher and wider walls to protect their user’s data hits just as AT&T responds to their shareholders’ concerns that they cave in to the government’s requests.

Google Halo Image
Google leads fight to save user data.

In strong efforts, Google has started to lead the pack to higher encryption levels to protect user-data in a race that pegs the NSA and other U.S. intelligence offices against large corporate tech companies and telecoms. The race is on-going and ever-evolving one as encryption is always evolving and requiring higher standards.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Kurt Opsahl, states that the encryption field is fast-moving because new vulnerabilities are eventually found even when better standards get deployed.

Initially the tech giants were quiet with their encryption efforts as they considered that government surveillance was a very sensitive topic. Facebook and Google both raised security levels this past summer and even sped the delivery of programs already in mid-development. This was done in efforts to protect their data as soon as news of the NSA collecting user data hit the mainstream.

The encryption fight with the NSA began to become more vocal as Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft wanted to ensure their customers that they were acknowledging their concerns by doing all they could to safeguard user information.

Google Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, recently said that Google has tightened their security between their operations and continue to work hard to make it tighter. Schmidt summed up his statement by saying that Google was now protected from China and NSA.

Since 2010, Google has been adding encryption to their web-based email service, Gmail, and over time added protections for other files received and sent from Google servers. This last summer Google added encryption between their data centers as the NSA found a way to tap into cables that were once thought to be safe because they were either owned or leased for exclusive corporate use. Taps like this were discovered in similar data lines between Yahoo’s data centers as they were revealed by the Washington Post.

Google Encryption and AT&T Open User Data
AT&T defies efforts of shareholders to request transparency of how they handle government requests for user data.

Even though the NSA says that they “only target subjects from overseas,” all the bigger tech giants and social media moguls are now following Google and building-up their walls of defense. One giant that is not following Google is AT&T. The telecom giant appears to be caving-in to the NSA’s requests for user-data.

Back in November, AT&T’s shareholders joined with the public’s outrage of news of the NSA snooping into personal user information. Shareholders demanded AT&T produce regular reports on how they share information with the government in respects to their “foreign surveillance efforts.”

On Thursday, Thomas P. DiNapoli, received a letter stating that the shareholder’s demands for AT&T’s transparency should be excluded from ballot during the annual shareholder’s meeting next spring. This letter was also addressed to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The letter that DiNapoli received stated that “ordinary business operations” were the concerns of the board and managers of AT&T and should not involve the shareholders. Therefore, the letter was a request that the shareholder proposal should not be included in the ballot.

AT&T also included their concerns that transparency would disclose the law enforcement requests such as cell phone records and information regarding foreign intelligence surveillance activities. The requests of this data would normally be classified information. It also went on to say that Yahoo and Google would also have the same limitations of transparency.

DiNapoli responded to AT&T in an argument that customer trust was the shareholder’s main concern as they feared customers would lose trust in AT&T, switching to other services or providers and ultimately hurting the company’s profits.

DiNapoli has not yet addressed the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, but he is expected to provide a response in the near future.

As the NSA continues their attempts at cracking new encryption levels, Facebook, Twitter, and Google will continue to build up walls in their defenses. How long AT&T can continue to fend off its shareholders and cave-in to the government’s requests still remains the question of the day.

By Brent Matsalla

Mercury News
New York Times
USA Today

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