The alarming allegations by former technician Mark Klein that AT&T was helping the NSA spy domestically have blossomed into a full fledged lawsuit. Citing violation of state and federal laws, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of AT&T customers in January.
Klein's claim, which could be lifted straight from the pages of a Philip K. Dick future dystopia novel, alleges that internet and phone traffic was routed from a switching station in San Francisco to the NSA via a secret room filled with dubious spy equipment. According to his statements, Klein witnessed the construction of the secret room in January 2003 and a special NSA-approved technician installed a splitting cabinet to redirect phone and internet traffic into the secret room.
According to the lawsuit, an AT&T program called Hawkeye maintains a database of over 312 terabytes of data, nearly every domestic phone call made on its network since 2001. As long as AT&T is willing to cooperate, the NSA can get its black-budget hands on anything you and I have said on the telephone for the past 5 years. Dredging through all this data for the all-important terrorist conversations or the ones detailing plans for an upcoming WTO protest is no simple task. The NSA is up to it, though. Although its official ranks are unknown, its headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland has 18,000 parking spaces and an annual electricity bill of over $21 million which makes it the state's second largest consumer of electricity. Unless every employee has his own microwave, a freezer full of hot pockets, and the insatiable urge to constantly stuff one into his mouth, that electricity is powering a large network of hardware designed specifically to invade the public's legal privacy.
Inside the secret room was a piece of equipment known as a Narus STA 6400, used for highly sophisticated data-mining. The company offers a variety of products, including the NarusIntercept Suite, which includes something called the Lawful Intercept Module. According to the website, this module gives its owner the ability to track in real time "Internet, VoIP, PTT, e-mail, etc. all in one platform."
No doubt the NSA has their hands on a souped-up version of this product as well, which puts them in the internet game as well. Since Voice-over IP calling is growing quickly and is much more vulnerable to spying thanks to the fact it may pass through many different networks, this eavesdropping tool is bound to become the bane of Skype users everywhere.
Conclusion: it's almost inevitable that the NSA has got their hands in your personal cookie jar of communication, so you should probably reserve the conversations about allegiance to Al-Qaeda, GreenPeace, or the Democratic Party for your local Starbucks.