"I would tell them I didn't need to respond if they didn't have a warrant, that (to do so) wouldn't be constitutional," the founder and chief executive, Pete Ashdown, said in an interview at his Salt Lake City headquarters.Utah's first and oldest independent internet service provider, XMission has been shielding their roughly 30,000 subscribers' privacy from extraneous snoop attempts by the government for the past fifteen years. To me, the very existence of such a tiny but resolute company concerned with upholding customer 1st & 4th Amendment protections, competing for business in a world of multinational corporations all to eager too line up to join in an ongoing symbiotic relationship with a government working outside of constitutional norms -- is amazing, and reason for hope.
Throughout its history, Ashdown has consistently rebuffed warrantless requests from local, state and federal authorities, the fact of which belies excuses from the major providers that they have no choice but to comply with government requests for unfettered access to electronic communications of their own subscribers.
Resistance is not futile. Who knew?
Ashdown did however, assent to one DoJ request. On advise from his attorney, Ashdown complied with a 2010 FBI request that was backed by a FISC warrant.
As usual, the Guardian has the story somehow missed by the American press.
"I would tell them, please send us a warrant, and then they'd just drop it."Ashdown listened with a furrowed brow at the adamant insistence from the major telecoms that the federal government didn't have direct access to their servers when they knew full well that access to networks not servers was the key.
"I believe under the fourth amendment digital data is protected. I'm not an unpaid branch of government or law enforcement."Damn dissenters! Gotta love 'em!
Turns out though, Ashdown has had repercussions on the state level. The Utah state attorney's office publicly alleged that XMission was soft on crime. But so far, the company has suffered no official retaliation.
"I didn't feel that I was in danger, or that my business suffered."Not deterred, Ashdown even went on to write and publish an enumerated report that detailed official information requests along with his company's responses over the span of the past three years. The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) subsequently called the report a model for the entire industry.
"XMission's transparency report is one of the most transparent we've seen," said Nate Cardozo, a lawyer for the San Francisco-based advocacy group.It's kind of ironic for an internet privacy champion like Ashdown to operate his company in the shadow of the NSA's brand, spankin' new one-million sq. ft. data center outside Salt Lake City. But Ashdown remains adamant.
EFF has lobbied big service providers – in vain – to publish individual government requests and their responses to the requests. Google and other giants would need a different format for scale but could emulate the Utah minnow's spirit, said Cardozo.
"The major service providers should demonstrate their commitment to their users and take XMission's transparency report as a model."
The agency's online snooping betrayed public trust, he said. "Post 9/11 paranoia has turned this into a surveillance state. It's not healthy."Here's the good news, folks. Apparently, Mr. Ashdown has political aspirations, or at least I presume he still does. He ran against Orrin Hatch in 2006 on the promise to bring technology savvy to Washington, which is sorely lacking in that department. He ran again in 2012 but lost in the primary. If we're really serious about drafting better candidates in 2014, Ashdown sounds worthy of our support. Perhaps some kindly kossack in Utah could look into that? Your mission, should you decide to accept it.
The only solution to internet snooping was encryption, he said, a point he repeated on a blog.
An interesting side note:
The latest Who Has Your Back report published annually by the EFF ranking privacy protection by big tech companies gave Twitter its maximum 'six-stars' and only one each to Apple and Yahoo.