In an example of Aaron Swartz’s SecureDrop technology working as intended, the Intercept received a trove of dumped Securus phone records recently. Securus, for those who have never been jailed in the United States virtually anywhere, is a phone services leader in the justice industry. That particular part of the prison industrial complex, communication, is worth about $1.2 billion annually.
SecureDrop is a way for whistleblowers to reach journalists with cryptographic anonymity. The hacker specifically told the Intercept that he or she believed Securus is violating constitutional rights, and given the evidence, they could be right.
Between December 2011 and Spring 2014, around 70 million calls from 37 states were logged. Among these, about 14,000 are between clients and attorneys, a serious breach of the right to attorney/client privilege that the accused in the United States enjoy.
From experience, the writer knows that there are special buttons to press within the Securus system which indicate that you are making a privileged call. In many cases, these calls are automatically billed to the lawyer or public defender. Therefore these calls should never be recorded, but ignored in the recording and logging system.
For its part, Securus sells itself as being able to record everything. Ironically, it promises government agencies that call recordings are stored securely. The hack of the majority of its system and subsequent dumping of the records sort of belies such an idea.
We understand that confidentiality of calls is critical, and we will follow all Federal, State, and Local laws in the conduct of our business.
The sixth amendment has been upheld numerous times over the years as providing privileged communication between an attorney and his client. Intercepting the calls of a lawyer to his client, for instance, is a severe constitutional violation. To date, most cases have involved which circumstances a lawyer could be compelled to testify regarding communications between himself and a client. If the Department of Justice decides to take any action in this case, it will be a massive chore of deciding who is to blame and how much, and who gets in trouble, and whether any of the data was ever used in ways that disadvantaged the inmates. The fact that a civilian news agency knows more about the system than the government itself is troubling on its own, however.
Securus and others recently came under scrutiny when the Federal Communications Commission began to look into the obscene charges that inmates, already largely impoverished, pay to maintain contact with the outside world. Price gouging would be a weak word for what goes on, given that the service often disconnects mid-sentence (when it works) and can cost a month’s wages for those lucky enough to have a job inside the institution. Topping it off, significant kick backs are given back to the institutions, who in most cases pay almost nothing to maintain the equipment. This results in incentive for the jails to have higher prices.
Securus told the Intercept:
It is very important to note that we have found absolutely no evidence of attorney-client calls that were recorded without the knowledge and consent of those parties. Our calling systems include multiple safeguards to prevent this from occurring. Attorneys are able to register their numbers to exempt them from the recording that is standard for other inmate calls. Those attorneys who did not register their numbers would also hear a warning about recording prior to the beginning of each call, requiring active acceptance.
Further, the company believes that an internal whistle blower, rather than a hacker, has leaked the recordings to the press. Hacked will monitor the story for any developments.
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