… A 2007 Washington Post article (reposted here at The Seattle Times website) describes the experiences that a former AT&T technician, Mark Klein, had with the National Security Agency (emphasis mine):
In summer 2002, Klein was working in an office responsible for Internet equipment when an NSA representative arrived to interview a management-level technician for a special, secret job.The job entailed building a “secret room” in another AT&T office 10 blocks away, he said. By coincidence, in October 2003, Klein was transferred to that office. He asked a technician about the secret room on the sixth floor, and the technician told him it was connected to the Internet room a floor above. The technician handed him wiring diagrams.
“That was my ‘aha’ moment,” Klein said. “They’re sending the entire Internet to the secret room.”
The diagram showed splitters glass prisms that split signals from each network into two identical copies. One copy fed into the secret room. The other proceeded to its destination, he said.
“This splitter was sweeping up everything, vacuum-cleaner-style,” he said. “The NSA is getting everything. These are major pipes that carry not just AT&T’s customers, but everybody’s.”
One of Klein’s documents listed links to 16 entities, including Global Crossing, a large provider of voice and data services in the United States and abroad; UUNet, a large Internet provider now owned by Verizon; Level 3 Communications, which provides local, long-distance and data transmission in the United States and overseas; and more familiar names, such as Sprint and Qwest. It also included data exchanges MAE-West and PAIX, or Palo Alto Internet Exchange, facilities where telecom carriers hand off Internet traffic to each other.
“I flipped out,” he said. “They’re copying the whole Internet. There’s no selection going on here. Maybe they select out later, but at the point of handoff to the government, they get everything.”
… comments from the American Civil Liberties Union:
ACLU Washington Legislative Office Director Laura Murphy: "The secrecy surrounding the government's extraordinary surveillance powers has stymied our system of checks and balances. Congress must initiate an investigation to fully uncover the scope of these powers and their constraints, and it must enact reforms that protect Americans' right to privacy and that enable effective public oversight of our government. There is a time and a place for government secrecy, but true democracy demands that the governed be informed of the rules of play so as to hold elected officials to account."…
If a machine types out and stores everything you say, Obama can say that “nobody” is listening to your phone conversations. If they name the people or group that does the listening “Nobody,” Obama can also say that “Nobody” is listening to your phone conversations.
The fiber optic splitters mean they get everything, not just metadata. Voice, pictures, video, everything. They can “quite literally watch your ideas form as you type.”