AT&T considering spying on its users

Martin Brinkmann
Jan 24, 2008
Updated • Dec 2, 2012
File Sharing, Internet

AT&T are currently evaluating if they should implement a system that would in effect monitor all traffic coming through their lines in an effort to stop sharing of copyrighted material on the Internet using P2P networks. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson came up with a weak analogy to prove his point: "It's like being in a store and watching someone steal a DVD. Do you act?"

Dear AT&T, dear Mr. Stephenson, are you aware that you can't compare the theft of a DVD in store with downloading a DVD on the Internet. The theft of the DVD takes something away from someone while the second does not. It is not the same. But that's not my main point of criticism, not at all.

AT&T is an Internet Service Provider which means that they provide the necessary infrastructure so that their customers can access the Internet. Let me ask you a question. What qualifies you to monitor or classify Internet traffic as copyright infringement ? Are you the police or a federal agency ? No you are not.

I'm not an expert in American law but I suppose that it is not allowed to spy on users that easily and even block traffic that has been analyzed before. Correct me if I'm wrong though.

What you are basically saying is that telephone companies should also eavesdrop on every call made because someone could plan or commit a crime over phone. What you are saying is that every letter and package send by mail should be opened and examined because someone could send copyright infringing material.

I'm sick of companies that side with the industry against their company. If you are a AT&T customer consider switching to another provider and LET THEM KNOW that what you will do if they follow this shady pass.


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  1. D3 said on January 28, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    if you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen!

  2. Lorissa said on January 28, 2008 at 10:46 am

    Fanatics bore me! This thread is so extremely off topic it is ridiculous to participate in it further.

    1. Truth said on March 3, 2010 at 2:29 am

      Hey Lorissa,
      Now that you’ve had time to research and reflect on the information (or disinformation in your case) gathered here, due you still stand behind your resolute comment of, “Don’t let yourself think like Martin and determine that because some telephone company CEO has been definitely quoted out-of-context … and perhaps even incorrectly by an unnamed Associated Press reporter who could simply be trying to make a name for him/herself.” ?

      Which network do you work for again? I only ask because you sound so militant about the subject.

  3. D3 said on January 28, 2008 at 1:09 am

    Lorissa, that is a VERY slippery slope you’re treading on. The Gov’t will take an inch here , take an inch there soon enough we won’t have any privacy left.

  4. Jd said on January 27, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    Here is one more “false” report confirming my statement:

    So the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of The United States defeats itself. I suppose the entire Bill of Rights and for that matter the entire Constitution defeats its self as well.Have you ever read the constitution? Do you know it’s purpose?
    I really don’t see how you can say I go beyond the scope of reality, the facts I have presented are real, you simply don’t want to believe it because it would shatter your belief that everything we do is great and good. I was taught that in public school too; later in life however, I learned that not everything I was taught was true. Just as you said,”just because someone reports it as fact, doesn’t make it fact”, That is very true, it is also true that because it is not reported does not make it not true.

    Here are a short list of things that have not been said on the NBC Nightly News, but are painfully true:

    We executed an unprovoked attack on a peaceful, sovereign nation.
    We destroyed it’s army and police, making it unable to defend itself against criminals or other nations.
    We murdered it’s leader on a religious holiday.
    We have been directly or indirectly responsible for the death of tens(some say 100’s) of thousands of innocent people.

    I’m not going to post a link to prove every word I’ve said, you do the work, you learn to learn.

    Humberto Ribas,
    Very, very well said. I too did not know of AT&T’s involvement in the overthrow of the government of Chile, but I will research it and I thank you for informing me.

  5. Humberto Ribas said on January 27, 2008 at 1:22 pm


    You must be very young (social alienation, maybe?) not to know about AT&T’s involvement.
    And as for: “we see our role in the World as the protectors of freedom”. God forbid it, vade retro satanas (in case you can’t understand Latin – as most Americans can hardly speak their own language, that means something like: xoo, Satan, keep away from me, Satan). Nobody needs this kind of ‘protection’. They’d rather be protected from your ‘protection’.

    And this makes me laugh: “We aren’t always right and we make mistakes along the way, but at least we try”. Please, stop trying. When we try and do nothing but mistakes (tell just one thing you did right ‘protecting’ freedom, just one, a SINGLE ONE, and I’ll be satisfied and believe your ‘protection’). Come on, dear friend, Americans never, ever, try to ‘protect’ freedom. What they do is ‘protect’ property, their property and interests. That’s why your money bears the saying: In Go(l)d we trust.
    Tell me, when you put Saddam, Pinochet and Noriega et caterva (Latin again = etc) in power, were you protecting ‘freedom’? If so, why did you do nothing about Pinochet’s long years of torture, murder, theft (he left a fortune that the Chilean people are trying to get back to where it belongs, where it was stolen from: the Chilean people). Even Stalin would be ashamed of what Pinochet did. Mind you, I am not a communist, I don’t like communism. I don’t approve of policies that keep people away from their basic rights, like Stalin did and like you are doing to the people you keep in Guantanamo. Mind you, again, I don’t like communism, but did you know that thousands of people, mainly children, starve to death every day? Did you know that none of them, that’s right, NONE OF THEM, lives in Cuba? Cubans are poor, have their basic human rights tampered with, have no cell phones, no iPods, but they don’t starve to death, unlike so many of your ‘free’ American compatriots.
    And my argument has everything to do with the original post. AT&T don’t give a damn to freedom, they’re only worried about profits and for that they will poke their dirty nose into whatever they feel could prevent them for profitting.
    By the way, I am never going to convince you of what I said above and vice-versa, and I am only posting back because the following sentences made me laugh (though they me the shivers, too):”Personally, I do not have a problem with the Government using wiretaps in an effort to prevent another 911 as part of “the patriot act”, or to curb the ever growing drug problem in the USA and the World”.
    Let’s have a look at the first part: wiretpas. This ‘patriotic act’ paranoia led you nowhere. Where are the weapons of mass destruction (the ‘excuse’ to invade Iraq)? Have they mass destructed themselves? Or is Mr. Bus(l)h(it) keeping them for his own use? Have a look at this page (mostly in Italian, so, ask for help) (
    maybe it will give you some light on what your ‘freedom’ government tells you. If you can’t find anyone to help you, try and read George Orwell’s 1984 and see where wiretapping leads you. If, after reading it, you still support wiretapping for ‘patriotic use’, I’ll send you my phone numbers to be wiretapped, as long as you let me do the same to you. For ‘patriotic uses’, of course. Oh, before I forget. To my knowledge, you were the only country EVER to attack civilians, two whole cities, with a weapon of mass destruction, even after the war was obviously won, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the living proof of that. And your president’s excuse was that it would help save lots of lives (American soldiers – who went to war, where you are supposed to kill or be killed). Yes, but at the cost of Japanese lives (civilians who were minding their own everyday businesses and who couldn’t kill a single American).
    Now, the drug problem. That’s a simple business matter: as long as there is demand there will be offer. That’s capitalism, remember? If you’re willing to buy, I’m willing to sell, and the more difficult it is for me to provide the goods, the dearer they will be, right? That’s capitalism, too, remember? They only smuggle drugs into a country running the risk of terrible prison sentences because they can make huge profits that are worth the risks. That’s capitalism, too. This is a two-way road. It’s no use trying to only stop people from smuggling if people still want to buy it. If more people want to buy it and less people can provide it, prices soar, right? Remember the Prohibition Law in the 20’s? Capone got rich because people wanted to drink what was then illegal. Did people stop drinking? No. Did mobsters get rich after the prohibition stopped (Capone was in jail by then)? No. How come? You could buy it from your local grocer. Why does Holland not have a drug problem like you do? People can’t make such high profits there, that’s why. Drugs are not completely legal, but are not completed banned, so they look for a better market. And, above all, drug using is a matter of education. They give you the feeling of being superior, being the best. And you teach your children to compete, to be the best at ANY cost. Being number two is not enough, but there’s no place where EVERYONE can be number one, so I must beat you, no matter how, if I want to be number one.
    Larissa, I can see you are a patriot, and that is great. That’s the best a citizen can be. But don’t be fooled, don’t let them pool the wool over your eyes. Don’t believe everything your government tells you. They are always trying to save their own asses, not yours. Not all of them are evil, but most of them are. Time was when you had great men ruling your country, like Washington, Jefferson, Francklin and Lincoln. Those times are long past, but heed attention to what they used to do. Once you started choosing cowboys for president and actors (bad actors, for that matter) for governor of your richest state (by the way, that’s how the cowboy started) you started going downhill. The times they are a’changing – listen to Dylan.

    Best regards, a nice 2008 and keep your eyes open. Oh, never move into New Orleans, you could be forgotten in times of need.

  6. Lorissa said on January 27, 2008 at 11:32 am

    Jd – As usual, articles such as this bring out the fanatics (like you) who go way beyond the scope of reality. I fail to find in either of the links you provided (maybe because I am not concerned), the mention of this so-called “bill” you claimed was presented to Congress. Some reason you haven’t produced what I requested?

    Personally, I do not have a problem with the Government using wiretaps in an effort to prevent another 911 as part of “the patriot act”, or to curb the ever growing drug problem in the USA and the World. Stopping mass thief of copyrighted material (which is illegal) through these means would be rather extreme, but perhaps if that is what’s needed to stop it I could go for it. And, your “passage” is great except that it defeats itself. Perhaps you should read it again putting a slightly untainted view on it.

    One thing you all need to keep in mind is, just because someone reports it as fact, doesn’t make it fact.

    Humberto Ribas – I am not familiar with AT&T involvement in the overthrow of a Chilean President, but I agree with the statement you claim to be made by former Secretary of State Kissinger. We see our role in the World as the protectors of freedom. We aren’t always right and we make mistakes along the way, but at least we try. And, the fight against Communism is a very very old argument, and again has nothing to do with the scope of the original post.

  7. Jd said on January 26, 2008 at 2:55 pm


    If you had stepped down from your high horse long enough to read my post you would have noticed that it had nothing to do with stealing, it was about privacy and personal freedoms. Since you clearly are far more moral and intelligent than ORLIC, myself and anyone else you may have insulted here, perhaps you can identify and grasp the meaning of the following passage:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

  8. Lorissa said on January 26, 2008 at 10:02 am

    Arno – Don’t let yourself think like Martin and determine that because some telephone company CEO has been definitely quoted out-of-context … and perhaps even incorrectly by an unnamed Associated Press reporter who could simply be trying to make a name for him/herself. Martin has used this little quip to stir the fires amoung those who think like him … that everything in life should be free, except for ones own labor which of course should be reasonably paid for. Congress would never allow anyone to invade personal privacy, so don’t make a gigantic mountain out of a mole hill. Stay rational and logical.

    anders – How is your magazine scenario the same thing? Geez, at least debate the issue, not something that doesn’t even compare.

    As for recording from the radio, in my opinion “yes” you have stolen it. You didn’t purchase it and therefore have no rights to having a copy of it. However, this again, is not the same issue.

    OLIRC – Don’t count on your encryption being safe.

    The following question from you simply doesn’t make any sense, “Lorissa why hasn’t the big sharks in the film industry an affair model that’s involve downloading the movie and then burn it yourself?” Please edit this so it does.

    As for your final comment, again your lack of skill in expressing yourself leaves something to be desired, but the idea of what you are saying is pretty clear. You are simply going to continue to make one excuse after another why you should be allowed to steal.

    Jd – Please provide your source(s) for this claim. And, if you live in the United States and don’t like it here, please feel free to leave … or can’t you find a way to steal a plane ticket?

  9. Humberto Ribas said on January 26, 2008 at 9:43 am

    What’s all the fuzz? AT&T is the very same one that plotted and managed to overthrow Chile’s Salvador Allende in 1972 to put Augusto “Angelical” Pinochet there. Not to mention Kissinger’s ‘fantastic’ comment about it: “We can’t allow a country to go communist because of its own people’s irresponsibility”. That basically means: we want the world to be free, as long as it is our idea of freedom. Fortunately I don’t live in the land of “freedom” (actually never even been there, and hope I never will), where, mind you, there’s a commie under every bed, watch out! Big Brother lives!

  10. Jd said on January 25, 2008 at 3:34 am

    Martin, Be thankful that you live in a free country and not the United States. AT&T has already been caught recording user’s phone calls that pass through their lines. A bill was offered in congress this year to protect AT&T from being sued by their customers for violating their privacy, citing the so called “Patriot Act”. I am sure they would use some similar manipulation of law to justify spying on internet traffic.

  11. OLIRC said on January 24, 2008 at 10:12 pm

    Just encrypt the traffic and your isp can’t see what you transfer in or out. I know that uTorrent allow encryption in the program so just choose that and your safe.

    Lorissa why hasn’t the big sharks in the film industry an affair model that’s involve downloading the movie and then burn it yourself?

    Right they will loose control of the content so that will not happen so sorry Lorissa but i will continue to use alternative channels to get my movies as long as the industry don’t get the act together and start to sell their content for direct downloading and burning with no restrictions and is playable on a regular dvd player!

  12. anders said on January 24, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    Lorissa; if I go into a book shop, grab a magazine from the rack and read a couple of pages then put the magazine back on the rack – have I stolen it?

    if I listen to the radio and record the song on tape – have I stolen it?

  13. Arno said on January 24, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    It’s not about stealing some movie. If ISPs start to concern in a very deep way about the kind of data transmitted on their lines, they develop and start to use more surveillance mechanisms than they need to. And then, such already established facilities can be misused in a very easy way to violate the users privacy for profit. And then, one day I get advertisements for PC Games from some company, because AT&T sold them my e-mailadress because they learned by analysing my traffic that I download a lot of game-demos etc (That just came into my mind, maybe it is out of line).

  14. D3 said on January 24, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    I agree with Martin, Isp’s shouldn’t be regulating or “eavesdropping” on what their clients download/say. There are tons of US groups that do that already. Let them earn a paycheque for once or omg they would be stealing too .

  15. Lorissa said on January 24, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Yes Martin, I had already read the capsule comments reportedly made by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, and as I said they were taken out-of-context by an Associated Press reporter.

    Regardless, as I said, thief is thief. Downloading unauthorized copyrighted DVDs on the internet is no different than stealing them from a store.

    It’s ashame that people like yourself, freeloaders, think everything in life should be free except, of course, for your labor.

  16. Martin said on January 24, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    It’s all over the news, here you go

    Your interpretation of theft is flawed, I see differences between stealing a DVD in store and downloading it from the Internet. If you can’t, not my problem. Even the results are different.

  17. Lorissa said on January 24, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    What is “the source” for your information here Martin? Sounds to me like if this CEO made this statement, it must have been taken out of context because this would never be allowed in the United States.

    But I am curious as to why you would think that there is some difference between stealing a DVD from a store and downloading it without paying for it from the internet? Thief is thief regardless of how or where it happens!

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