Judge to Keep AT&T Documents in NSA Spying Case Sealed for Now

AT&T lost its bid to have a former employee forced to return records to the company that may show it let federal intelligence agencies access the phone giant’s records, but won a small victory when a judge issued an order Wednesday that the documents be kept private pending further court action.

The closely watched case involves a suit against AT&T brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in January, which has said it obtained documents from a former employee of the phone company that shows it cooperated with government eavesdropping efforts — a violation of a 70-year-old telecommunications law that prohibits the turning over of customer data to the government without a warrant or court order.

Sensitive Information

Though AT&T had hoped the judge would force the group to return the records, the judge did leave open the possibility that they would never see the light of day in the current court case.

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker scheduled a June 23 hearing on motions from both AT&T and the Bush administration to dismiss the EFF’s suit. The government intends to argue that proceeding with the case would put sensitive national security information at risk.

“These are motions that may very well terminate the litigation at an early stage,” Walker said. “I think the best course of action is to preserve the status quo.”

The lawsuit predates last week’s reports that AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth had all cooperated with the National Security Agency (NSA) in an effort to create a massive database of tens of millions of phone calls. Since then, both Verizon and BellSouth have denied cooperating in the way news reports, first published in USA Today, claimed. The newspaper has said it stands by its story, which quoted an unnamed intelligence community official.

Multiple Fronts

The courtroom drama unfolded a day before a Congressional hearing began on Bush’s nomination of Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Hayden ran the NSA when the phone data collection was said to have begun. Lawmakers have agreed to limit public discussions of surveillance programs to protect national security.

In its court case with the EFF, AT&T said letting the documents become public would harm it from a competitive standpoint and could weaken national security, an argument backed by the Bush administration.

The first round focused on documents that Mark Klein, who worked at AT&T for 22 years before leaving in 2004, took with him. Klein has also said he witnessed the installation of equipment that would give the NSA access to e-mails sent and received by AT&T customers.

The EFF said the ruling was a victory for openness, as was an earlier decision to keep the hearing open to the public.

“Taken together with the court’s refusal to close the courtroom as AT&T had requested, we think today was a real victory for the public’s right to know, and for our ability to litigate this case,” EFF staff attorney Kevin Bankston told the E-Commerce Times.

Legal Actions Abound

The case could proceed in unusual fashion, attorneys noted, with the U.S. Justice Department offering to provide classified material for the judge to review that won’t be seen by the EFF, making it difficult for that group to respond to arguments made to dismiss the case.

Experts also say AT&T and other telecommunications companies may be able to avoid culpability under the law if they can show the Bush administration authorized the sharing of data, with exceptions made for such instances. If such authorization does not exist, the phone companies could be liable for tens of millions of dollars in damages.

Immediately after the NSA database reports, a group of attorneys filed suit against Verizon on similar grounds to the EFF suit, which covers both e-mail and telephone records and a separate suit, seeking US$200 billion in damages, was filed against the three major telcos that were said to have cooperated with authorities.

The Electronic Information Privacy Clearinghouse (EPIC) has also asked the Federal Communication Commission to investigate the allegations.

Meanwhile, there are signs the fallout from the NSA disclosures could spread to Internet companies, since the data allegedly being intercepted could include a host of Web services information, from Gmail and Yahoo mail accounts to records of searches performed on the Web. Google won a public relations coup when it refused to turn over copies of Web search records sought by lawmakers attempting to prove the need for more child-pornography protections on the Web.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

Related Stories

CRM Buyer Channels

INSIGHTS

Dreamforce Goes Back to the Future

Salesforce co-CEOs Marc Benioff and Bret Taylor at Dreamforce 2022

Salesforce co-CEOs Marc Benioff and Bret Taylor at Dreamforce 2022 (Image Credit: Salesforce)

Salesforce is reinventing itself. Again.

From the time of its inception, the company has marched to its own drummer, often alone, only to be pursued by so-called fast followers. The thinking was that fast following was almost as good as being the leader but the slides at Dreamforce told a different story.

In Marc Benioff’s keynote slides the fast followers were all bunched at about 5% of the market while Salesforce sailed above at close to 30%. Yes, there’s still room at the top of the CRM industry, but who do you think has the better chance of capturing it? At some point, like when the fast followers bunch up, you have to admit that they’re more permanent laggards than followers threatening to catch up.

To drive that point home, Benioff mentioned in passing that his company’s revenues in the latest quarter pulled ahead of SAP’s — making Salesforce, by one measure at least, the bigger of the biggest enterprise software companies.

But back to reinvention.

It’s been a long time arriving, but Salesforce is changing by doing its best to change the economy and the ground rules business has been operating under since Milton Friedman’s heyday.

Friedman was the anti-Keynesian championing the idea of shareholder supremacy in the mid-twentieth century. Where Friedman saw shareholders, the Keynesians (John Maynard Keynes had already passed from the scene) saw stakeholders. They included employees, local communities, suppliers and importantly customers.

There has been a seesaw battle between the camps for several decades Friedman won a Nobel Economics Prize while Keynes died long before the prize was innovated. Paul Samuelson, one of many Keynesians, won a Nobel just prior to Friedman. Lately the Business Round Table, an association of major corporation CEOs, has thrown its weight behind the stakeholder school.

CRM has become one of the tools of stakeholder business with its emphasis on, well, the customer, and lately Salesforce’s embrace of other stakeholders. Salesforce’s core values include developing trust all around and embracing enlightened attitudes about sustainability exemplify this arrangement.

Salesforce Genie, Real-Time CRM

The company’s latest innovation, and a reason it remains the vendor to follow, is real-time CRM represented by a new element of its service called Genie.

Salesforce Genie Real-Time CRM

Salesforce Genie takes billions of data points about customers in real time, from any system or interaction, and harmonizes it to one, dynamic single “source of truth” that changes as a customer does. (Image Credit: Salesforce)


Genie delivers, almost like pixie dust, the information needed to keep deals moving forward in real time whether that information is used by people or by bots mediating online purchases.

It’s a slick trick in the best sense of the words. Genie has to manage and manipulate and crunch Salesforce and third-party data to deliver useful information where and when its needed. It’s a further articulation of the Customer 360 effort, perhaps on the tech equivalent of steroids, and it is very powerful.

But I have trepidations about some of this because I’ve been around CRM long enough to have seen many of what seemed like unalloyed goods develop barnacles.

For example, social media was once seen as a great unifier, though it’s hard to feel that today. Or look at the Net Promoter Score. It was once a powerful tool for understanding customer reactions to business, but today too many businesses forewarn customers that a survey is on the way and only a rating of nine or 10 is useful — making the NPS useless as a forecasting tool and not much more than apple polishing.

I wonder how long it will take businesses to find workarounds to Genie that sideline difficult customer issues. As we saw with the NPS and social media, it’s not the tools but how you use them that makes all the difference.

Net Zero Cloud, Sustainability Management

Speaking of how you use a tool, Salesforce stepped up in a big way to making sustainability issues core to its values. That’s to be applauded but much work remains. Salesforce’s Net Zero Cloud initiative as a few holes in it, though admittedly it’s better to have a few holes in the sail than no sail at all.

What’s good about Net Zero is that it takes a balanced approach to the twin issues of climate change — pollution and emissions. Although we may equate the two, they are different. On the pollution front, the company has embraced the Trillion Tree initiative, and on the emissions front it has some credible technology for counting and then curbing emissions.

But here’s the rub. Too often we equate carbon capture with carbon sequestration. While trees can certainly capture carbon, they only live about a century on average and then they release their carbon back to the environment. So that’s a B+ on capture but a D on sequestration.

Carbon Tracking

The carbon we burn today has been underground for upwards of hundreds of millions of years and it would stay put if not for our industrious efforts. That’s sequestration so we need to keep working on that front.

Emissions are rapidly moving to the rearview mirror. States are announcing curtailment of internal combustion engines for transport by 2035, as California did this summer. Salesforce’s emissions tracking and calculating tools are a good effort at documenting carbon use, but other events of this summer say they may not find a home.

Salesforce Net Zero Marketplace Carbon Credits

Net Zero Marketplace will be available for carbon credit purchases in the U.S. starting in October 2022, and will be expanding to additional markets in 2023. (Image Credit: Salesforce)


Carbon tracking is useful if you intend to implement a carbon tax as many EU countries do. But the events of this summer and the 20 or so summers before suggest we’ll not see such a regimen in tax-phobic countries like the U.S.

This summer’s Inflation Reduction Act sustainability legislation drove a nail into the coffin of a carbon tax and substituted a profit motive for switching to renewables. So far, profits seem to have the upper hand. Milton Friedman would approve.

Curtailing the internal combustion engine is fine as far as the environment is concerned, but it suggests that Salesforce’s Net Zero has some retooling to do. One thing that business and environmentalists alike have avoided like Ebola is putting a stake in the ground that determines how much carbon is in the environment and how much must be removed. That’s not trivial given the wildfires and droughts experienced across the Northern Hemisphere this summer.

We’re not yet at the point of raising global temperatures to the freakout point of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels that the IPCC has warned about. But given what’s already happening do we need to wait? Do we really think there’s headspace?

My Take

By my estimate there are between one and two trillion tons of excess carbon in the environment that needs to be removed and sequestered to return us to a more acceptable late twentieth-century climate. With that reality Net Zero might need to be replaced by “Sub” Zero.

All that said, Salesforce had a very good Dreamforce. It reset the bar a bit higher for its competitors with initiatives like Genie Real-Time CRM and Net Zero Cloud. It continues to expand what it means to be a good corporate citizen in ways that harken back to the mid-twentieth century.

All told, it was the best Dreamforce since Marc and Parker Harris did their “Back to the Future” schtick.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry analyst, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can't Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. Email Denis.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

Related Stories
SPONSORED CONTENT

Implementation of a New CRM Should Be Easy

Zoho - CRM Should Be Easy
When CRM implementations fail, it's often because the product and its setup process are too complicated, time-consuming, and difficult for users to buy in. (Image Credit: Zoho)

Did you know that a third of all CRM implementations fail? That’s the conclusion of research cited by the Harvard Business Review. The same study found that one of the main reasons CRM implementations fail is that they’re too complex and don’t have a clear focus.

This is hardly surprising. Many CRM applications are highly complex. Migrating data to a new CRM, and getting everyone to use that CRM, is an involved task at the best of times. And the way many CRMs are built, and the way they require users to interact with them, means that implementation really isn’t the best of times.

The Problem With Piecemeal

Many CRMs consist of different applications that have been bolted together through a process of mergers and acquisitions. This makes the initial implementation complicated. Technical and line-of-business staff are forced to interact with different elements of the system in different ways, which makes the learning curve steeper.

It can also lead to duplication of effort, and asking people to repeat time-consuming tasks is sure to cause frustration and put them off using the system. A CRM implementation relies on engaging with and convincing users, from the C-suite right down to the people on data entry.

The more difficult that process is, the less users are likely to complete it. And even if they do complete the initial data migration and set-up, if your users find the CRM complex, disjointed, and time consuming, they won’t keep it up to date. This is possibly the main reason why CRM implementations fail: users simply refuse to use the new platform. As a result, the data it contains soon becomes outdated and incomplete.

So, what’s the best way to avoid this and ensure your investment in a new CRM pays off?

For a start, the CRM you choose should consist of applications and functions which have been designed from the ground up to work together. Migrating data should be easy, and wherever possible, users should only have to do it once to get their data populated to all relevant apps with the right permissions.

Companies should also look for signs that the relationship will be based on trust, right from the start. For instance, if the CRM vendor wants to charge a lot of money to help you overcome the complexity of the integration process, that’s potentially a sign that they view their customers as an ATM.

Users should find the CRM easy to get to grips with. Entering data should be an intuitive process that fits organically into each workflow. It should also be quick to do. Only this way will it become second nature to your colleagues, so that the data in the CRM is kept constantly up to date, making it relevant and actionable.

Zoho - CRM implementation

Image Credit: Zoho


Designed for Success

To make these benefits a reality, it usually works best if a CRM has been developed as an integrated and seamless whole. At Zoho, all the features and functions in our CRM suite have been built, not bought, by our own development teams. And they are all designed from the concept stage onwards to work seamlessly together.

This level of integration results in a smoother implementation process. We calculate that the average implementation of Zoho CRM takes 50% less time than it would to implement our closest competitors. Over the last two years alone, we have helped users implement our CRM 30,000 times.

With the right technology, the right approach and the right partner, your CRM implementation won’t just succeed. It will give you the agility your company needs to respond faster to changing customer trends and preferences, in a market that evolves more rapidly with every passing day.

Get your free eBook from Zoho:
Top five things to consider when choosing a CRM System in 2022

Zoho Corporation

About Zoho
Software is our craft and our passion. At Zoho, we create beautiful software to solve business problems. We believe that software is the ultimate product of the mind and the hands.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

Related Stories