Support for LAist comes from
We Explain L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

This is an archival story that predates current editorial management.

This archival content was written, edited, and published prior to LAist's acquisition by its current owner, Southern California Public Radio ("SCPR"). Content, such as language choice and subject matter, in archival articles therefore may not align with SCPR's current editorial standards. To learn more about those standards and why we make this distinction, please click here.


Intercepting rebel transmissions since forever

Before you read this story...
Dear reader, we're asking for your help to keep local reporting available for all. Your financial support keeps stories like this one free to read, instead of hidden behind paywalls. We believe when reliable local reporting is widely available, the entire community benefits. Thank you for investing in your neighborhood.

It's a good thing we at LAist live in a free country, because we've heard that in totalitarian societies, it's not okay to make jokes about the subway system. We take for granted our right to be heard on this and lots of other issues.

And of course, as citizens of a free country, we also take for granted our right to not be heard, for example, when we're having naughty late-night phone conversations with other citizens.

Well, after we got a letter from the ACLU asking us to pressure our phone company for a policy statement on warrantless wiretapping, we didn't actually do anything. We took it for granted that they had a policy against it -- even if that policy may have been broken here or there. The naughty conversations continued.

Support for LAist comes from

But today -- just for the hell of it, maybe out of boredom -- we decided to call AT&T and get it straight from the horse's mouth. After all, they're our only local phone provider. If we're gonna talk dirty on their lines, we should feel safe knowing that unless there's some good reason to think we're terrorists, we're not being overheard.

The operator at the AT&T service line was friendly and cheerful, although at first she didn't completely understand our question.

"Well," she replied, "they're the government, they have the right to listen to any conversations they want. We take your social security number, and we don't share that with anyone, although we have to comply with government requests. But they have the right to listen to the phone lines."

"No no," we pressed, "they're supposed to have a warrant. They can't eavesdrop without a warrant. We'd just like to get a written copy of your policy stating that you don't let the government listen to Americans' domestic phone calls without a warrant."

She put us on hold. There was no friendly music. We wondered what kind of grotesque Orwellian machinery was, at that exact moment, being set into motion against us. If our phone wasn't tapped before...well, it is now. After a few minutes, the operator came back.

"Yes," she said reassuringly, "I just checked, and we don't have any policy on that. Was there anything else I could help you with today?"

Uh, cancelling our DSL service would be a good start.

LAist would like to urge all citizens to call and ask AT&T the same question: Do you let the government listen to us without a warrant? We're curious if anyone will get a different response than we did...and we hope that you're as infuriated by this as we are. Their number is: 1-800-PICK-ATT. Which is funny in itself, since it implies we have a choice...