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AT&T's Good Name?

It's beginning to look as if one of the first returns SBC is getting from its $16 billion acquisition of AT&T is a legal and public relations nightmare.

The old Ma Bell, it seems, has no problem with turning over your e-mail to the National Security Agency (NSA).

No warrant? No problem.

According to a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), AT&T apparently didn't blink when the NSA approached the telecom giant in the aftermath of 9/11 for help in mounting what the EFF called a "massive and illegal program to wiretap and data-mine Americans' communications."

Most of the EFF's proof is currently under a court seal, but the key witness in the EFF lawsuit has gone public.

"Based on my understanding of the connections and equipment at issue, it appears the NSA is capable of conducting what amounts to vacuum-cleaner surveillance of all the data crossing the Internet -- whether that be people's e-mail, Web surfing or any other data," former AT&T technician Mark Klein said in a statement released by his lawyers.

AT&T, according to Klein, is supplying all the data for the NSA's data-mining activities.

Klein claims AT&T has secret rooms in company facilities in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego and Seattle containing data-mining equipment, made by Mountain View, Calif.-based Narus, that serves as a "semantic traffic analyzer."

"The Narus technology is known to be used particularly by government intelligence agencies because of its ability to sift through large amounts of data looking for pre-programmed targets," Klein stated.

In his statement, Klein said his duties at AT&T included overseeing the company's Worldnet Internet room, where he discovered fiber optic cables channeling e-mail to the Narus equipment.

"While doing my job, I learned that fiber optic cables from the secret room were tapping into the Worldnet circuits by splitting off a portion of the light signal," Klein stated.

Klein added he has design documents that instructed technicians on how to connect circuits to the Narus equipment.

"The circuits listed were peering links, which connect Worldnet with other networks and hence the whole country, as well as the rest of the world," Klein said.

AT&T's reaction to all this is not exactly a ringing denial. Admitting nothing, AT&T went to court earlier this week to argue that Klein's documents shouldn't be used in the EFF lawsuit. And they want the docs back.

In other words, blame the whistleblower. Beyond that, AT&T has nothing to say.

The EFF, on the other hand, has plenty to say.

"The evidence that we are filing supports our claim that AT&T is diverting Internet traffic into the hands of the NSA wholesale in violation of federal wiretapping laws and the Fourth Amendment," EFF staff attorney Kevin Bankston said earlier this month.

"More than just threatening individuals' privacy, AT&T's apparent choice to give the government secret, direct access to millions of ordinary Americans' Internet communications is a threat to the Constitution itself. We are asking the court to put a stop to it now."

In addition to Klein's statements and documents, the EFF evidence of AT&T's "dragnet surveillance of its networks" includes expert testimony by J. Scott Marcus, who served as an Internet technology senior advisor for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from 2001 to 2005.

"The public deserves to know about AT&T's illegal program," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "In an abundance of caution, we are providing AT&T with an opportunity to explain itself before this material goes on the public docket, but we believe that justice will ultimately require full disclosure."

If that happens, SBC may well be second-guessing its decision to adopt the AT&T name.

"AT&T is a name with a proud heritage known and respected around the globe," SBC said when it changed names.

If the courts prove that AT&T facilitated massive domestic spying, that respect is going to take a hit. And it should.