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Pete Ashdown: ISP owner who stood up to NSA says govt should follow law if it wants to keep secrets

Pete Ashdown: ISP owner who stood up to NSA says govt should follow law if it wants to keep secrets
As US broadband giants betray customer privacy in the name of profit, the owner of a Utah-based internet company has stood up for his customers’ privacy, refusing to compromise his personal or professional integrity for warrantless wiretapping.

Pete Ashdown is the founder of XMission, an independent internet service provider (ISP) based in Utah. The company has built a stellar reputation among users concerned with protecting their privacy.

His profile has been on the rise as of late because of his company’s refusal to turn over customer data that is requested by an administrative subpoena instead of a warrant. Ashdown refuses to honor subpoena requests because they prove that the government agency seeking the data did not, or was unable, to provide “probable cause” mandated by the Constitution.  

Verizon, AT&T, Google, Facebook, and other tech giants have tried to maintain the public’s trust by blaming the government for forcing them to turn over personal information. However, a recent report indicated that some of the companies profited from the turnover.  

When I started XMission in 1993, I was mainly trying to get a stable Internet connection at home,” Ashdown told RT. “I had one where I worked, at [computer graphics company] Evans and Sutherland, and where I was going to school at the University of Utah, but home was sporadic. I figured if I needed one, there were other techies like me who needed one too.”

When he founded XMission 20 years ago, Ashdown could never have predicted how people would come to rely on technology in their daily lives.

I honestly had no idea the Internet would become as ubiquitous and essential as it is today,” he said. “I thought my server would live in a closet and I’d collect a tidy check each month, and that would be the end of it.”

Frustrated by the lack of technology literate lawmakers in Washington, Ashdown ran for Senate in 2006 and 2012 against Republican Orrin Hatch, who has represented Utah since 1977.

As time went on, it became apparent to me that there was nobody on the technology front in office in Washington,” he said. “There still isn’t anyone.”  

Pete Ashdown (Image from peteashdown.org)
Ashdown’s consecutive losses came as little surprise – Utah is consistently ranked among the most conservative US states. But Ashdown still found himself frustrated over the amount of money pervading politics. A candidate running on their conscience is forced to run against a machine that dominates both parties, he said.

I would need overwhelming outside financial support to convince me to run for Congress again,” Ashdown said. “I ran against PAC money and for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizen’s United in 2012, and interests in the Democratic Party campaigned against me for that reason. With a number of disappointments from the Obama administration on civil liberties, I find the modern Democratic Party quite distant from my ideals.”

That disappointment is especially disheartening because of Ashdown’s support for Obama in 2008, when much of the country was hopeful that the first African-American president would lead the nation away from post-September 11 paranoia.

I owned a building that the Utah for Obama office worked out of in 2008. I walked door to door for President Obama with my wife Robin, who also campaigned for him in Colorado. He has been beyond disappointing for me. America needs another FDR more than ever right now, someone who doesn’t cower to military and financial interests and will stand for fundamental human rights.”

Perhaps the only way for an individual to fight back against invasive government tactics is by voting with dollars. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital-rights group, has praised XMission, while the company’s transparency report proves it is a model for start-ups looking to avoid the profit-first attitude that pervades Google and the like. However, XMission only offers email, web hosting, and cloud services for customers outside Utah.

“If they don’t or can’t use XMission, I encourage them to question the companies they do use, and if they don’t get an answer they respect, look into a small local provider who may take their concerns more seriously,” Ashdown said.

The shift in public opinion is a direct result of the disclosures made by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed widespread government surveillance targeting American citizens and visitors from abroad. Snowden, who 55 per cent of Americans regard as a conscientious whistleblower, has been demonized by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

To hear some of the rhetoric about Snowden being a traitor angers me,” Ashdown said. “Snowden isn’t the one who committed the crime. He reported the constitutional crimes of the people who are running the agencies monitoring Americans. “

“If the government really wants to keep secret information secret, they should follow the law and the Constitution in their actions, not only here, but abroad. Don’t get me started on Guantanamo.”

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