US spy agencies weigh in on telephone contracting deal

Ericsson TelecommunicationsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A host of American intelligence agencies are intervening to discourage a business deal that would see a vital aspect of the United States telephone network end up under the control of a European telecommunications firm. The contracting agreement concerns the administration of the US routing network, designed in the late 1990s as a kind of traffic controller of America’s deregulated and fragmented telephone system. The routing network ensures centralized access to pen-register data, which reveal the time, duration, telephone numbers and subscriber information associated with each telephone call. Because of that, the routing system is seen as a vital tool by American law enforcement and intelligence agencies that engage in state-sponsored communications interception. Although the routing control system is supervised by the US government’s Federal Communications Commission, its maintenance has been sub-contracted since the mid-1990s to a small Virginia-based private company called Neustar. Now, however, the FCC is apparently considering transferring the administration of the routing network to Ericsson Telecommunications, a Swedish firm that says it can do Neustar’s job more efficiently for a reduced cost to the government. As can be expected, Neustar objects to Ericsson’s bid, arguing that awarding the American telephone system’s administration to a foreign firm could have “unwarranted and potentially harmful” effects on American security. The company claims that the FCC is focusing solely on the financial aspect of the deal, while ignoring national security concerns. Neustar’s warnings are being echoed by a host of American intelligence agencies, who say they depend on the Virginia-based company for access to telephone data in the course of their investigations. They claim that, by allowing a non-American company to access the US routing system, surveillance data relating to national security investigations could be compromised. In a recent article, The New York Times quoted “current and former intelligence officials” as saying that they were “concerned that the government’s ability to trace reams of phone data could be hindered” if Ericsson won the contract. They cautioned that this would also hamper criminal and terrorism investigations. According to The Times, officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Secret Service and other intelligence agencies have urged the FCC to reconsider awarding the contract to Ericsson. In a statement to the FCC, quoted by The Times, the FBI noted that it wanted to ensure its “professional needs were adequately addressed” and that it would suffer “no disruption in access to call-routing data in real time or near real time”. The newspaper added that a number of members of Congress have also cautioned the FCC not to award the contract to a foreign firm. The FCC has yet to arrive at a final decision on the matter.

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