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September 11, 2007

September 11 Thoughts

Like many other telephone carriers ITXC Corp, which I founded and was running at the time, received requests from law enforcement and intelligence agencies for information concerning calls to suspicious numbers abroad. Like most of those carriers, we complied with those requests. Although it will offend some of my friends, I don’t regret my decision to comply a bit and hope it was helpful in deterring other attacks.

We weren’t asked to tap calls, perhaps because law enforcement officials have a hard time believing VoIP calls can be tapped (they can!). If we had been asked to with proper authority, we would have. We weren’t asked anything about domestic calls but we didn’t handle many of these either. What we were able to do was identify clusters of calls to suspicious numbers and report the time and originating phone company – we were a wholesaler so we didn’t usually know the originating phone number; but I hoped then and hope now that these were able to be traced back through the upstream carriers.

I’m no admirer of at&t or even the old AT&T but I think, unless there was an egregious pattern of illegal domestic wiretaps, it’s wrong to attempt to prosecute them for complying with law enforcement requests in the months after 9/11/2001. There’s been time since to consider how to both safeguard domestic liberties and prevent terrorists attacks but, in the aftermath of the attack, it would have been wrong – badly wrong – for a telephone company executive to refuse to comply with requests for information on international calls or even to delay complying. We didn’t know (most of us still don’t know) whether another attack was imminent. We did know the horror that had been unleashed.

If I regret anything, it is my failure to convince anti-terrorism agencies that there were more technical tools we could use to intercept possible terror-planning calls. My hope is that they took some of these suggestions (or had already thought of some of these ideas) and just didn’t tell me.

The memory of the horror of 9/11 is beginning to fade BECAUSE we have so far not suffered a follow-on attack here. The threat hasn’t gone away. Yes, we do have to protect our civil liberties; yes, the administration has been both incompetent and insensitive in much that it has done; yes, our own government needs to be watched; but, no, the greatest threat to our liberties is not domestic – it’s Islamic fascism. Was on 9/12/2001 and is on 9/11/2007. Those who responded domestically in the aftermath of the attack – like the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan today – deserve our thanks, not retroactive retribution.

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