Room 641A - A Fantasy

Madam Foreperson, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, good morning. We are assembled today to begin Grand Jury proceedings in a series of crimes. Individually these crimes are not particularly heinous, but their number is staggering. Every person in the country is a victim, many times over. Every person in this room.

Your job is very easy. Today, just hear me out as I explain my proposed investigation. In a few months we will re-convene and I will present the results of that investigation, including the names of those responsible and a list of their crimes. At that point you can issue indictments and the court system will take over.

So, what are these crimes that I want to investigate? Phone spam. Yes, phone spam. You all get it. "This is an important message regarding your automotive warranty." "This is Rachel at card-holder services, calling in reference to your current credit card account." "Hi, this is Diane from the Carpet Cleaning Company!" Yes, it's funny. But it's also a crime. In fact it's two or three different crimes.

The law governing this kind of thing is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991. Normally its provisions are enforced by the FCC through fines, not by the courts - but there's really no reason we can't get in on the action too.[1] Plus the FCC hasn't actually been doing anything about it, have they? Anyway, the TCPA prohibits calls to people on the National Do-Not-Call list; it prohibits pre-recorded calls made to residences or cell phones; and it prohibits anonymous calls. The phone spammers are violating those provisions with most every call they make, and they make billions of calls. They don't care that it's illegal because they think they can't be found, and if they could be found no one would care because it's so trivial. Well I think I can find them, and I don't think it's trivial taken all together.

Let me tell you a little story. Back around 2003 the National Security Agency went to AT&T and said "We want to listen in on phone calls and the internet, and we want you to help us." AT&T said "Really. What parts of the phone system and internet do you want to listen to?" And the NSA replied "All of it." Hah hah, ok, maybe that's not quite how it happened. But the NSA and AT&T did get together and install their little tap cabinets, which are still sitting there today listening in on everything.

Now AT&T ended up getting in some trouble for this, because tapping phones without proper legal authorization is a crime. That case is still playing out. AT&T says the NSA told them they did have the legal authorization, and NSA is trying to say nothing at all. Whatever. I don't actually care about the legal issues in that case. I care about the hardware. I want to listen in on everything too! I'm going to get myself a search warrant and a subpoena, and I'm going to walk into AT&T's 611 Folsom Street building, and say "Take me to room 641A." If anyone gets in my way, they go to jail. I'll bring along a video camera so you folks can watch later, it should be fun.

I think that with some fairly simple software we will be able to use the NSA's tap hardware to zero in on the phone spammers, to flag every call they make and to trace its origin. After a few months of collecting this data we will be able to find them and charge them with enough crimes to send them to prison basically forever.

I see you perk up at that. How forever? While each individual phone call is a trivial crime, I intend to file charges on all of them. I will prepare an electronic indictment document for you jurors detailing the - I expect - billions of counts. I will work with the court system beforehand to make sure they can accept such a document. And I will sit down with some judges to discuss issues of trial procedure that may have to be changed in cases with billions of charges. None of these issues will be particularly difficult to solve.

So that's my plan for this Grand Jury session. We're going to make a little history here, charging the most crimes and getting the longest prison terms ever. And we're also going to help every family in the nation get through their dinner without being interrupted. Any questions?

[1] This is actually the only part of the story that is fantastic.

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