Room 641A - Internet Surveillance in the USA

You may have already heard about this room, the infamous room 641A in San Francisco.  If you haven't I'll give you a short introduction and some links where you can read some more. I suspect it might make more people interested in anonymous surfing and proxies.

Now I write a lot on this blog about the various intrusions into our private lives, everything from European Directives to the UK Governments Intercept Modernisation program.  They are all meant to be 'for our own good' and it's ok if you've nothing to hide, but I think room 641A illustrates exactly how a modern government operates.   They do things the legitimate way, but just in case hedge their bets and do it anyway.

But I don't want to sound like one of those internet conspiracy web sites, so let's just stick to what we know about Room 641A.   Well for a start the fact we know anything about it at all, is down to the courage of Mark Klein a former AT&T technician.

So what did Mark Klein do ?

Well Klein witnessed a special network monitoring room being built into AT&T's internet switching centre some years ago.  Although only NSA (National Security Agency) technical staff had direct access to the room he managed to hide away technical documents detailing the facility and presented them to both the press and the Electronic Frontier Foundation

This room had a direct feed of all the internet traffic that was passing through this building, which formed a large part of the US Internet backbone.  Conveniently it also contained a device called the Narus STA 6400 which is a device capable of intercepting and analysing internet communications. I'll leave you to make your own decisions on what it is was used for, allegedly many of these rooms exist all across telecommunication centers in the US.

If you believe this was used for covert surveillance of internet users in the USA, it would of course have been illegal, although a retrospective bill has been brought in to correct that little problem.

Anyway kudos to Mr Klein for blowing the whistle on this, and to the EFF for fighting for our rights.

The best place to start reading more about this ongoing saga is probably here, on the EFFs NSA Spying page. You can even find the technical documents detailing more of the contents of the room.

Remember there was no selection being made here, this room was siphoning off all the internet traffic passing through this internet backbone directly to the NSA, who knows if they were filtering off the data later, but they received everything.

I wonder how many Room 641As exist across the planet and exactly how many resources are devoted to spying on us, is it any surprise that some of us would like to remain anonymous. But as we use the most awesome communication medium the world has ever seen, this seems a damn fine spot to put in this quote.

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

– John Perry Barlow, "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace"

A little melodramatic perhaps, but fine words in my opinion from the one time lyricist of the Grateful Dead and a man whose Wiki page is well worth a visit.

Picture-Credit: Ryan Singel/