"If you're worried about it, do something about it. Take security on yourselves, and don't trust anybody else to do it."
At a recent security conference in New York City, that was the advice Marcus Sachs, Verizon's vice president of national security policy, had for people upset about Verizon's connections to the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).
Verizon is one of the large U.S. telecommunications providers closely linked to the National Security Agency's widespread surveillance and data collection programs, according to documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
News that Verizon supplies the NSA with customer phone records on an "ongoing, daily basis" broke in June 6, 2013. It was the first story to examine the top-secret NSA documents Snowden had recently handed to documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald.
Like just about every other major U.S. telecommunications company, Verizon has come under heavy criticism for sharing customers' data with the U.S., despite the fact that these companies are legally obligated to do so. The law also forbids companies to reveal that they have been asked to turn over data to the government in the first place.
According to Sachs, Verizon's first priority is to deliver its customers' messages — not to ensure their privacy.
"Don't look at us to protect your data. That’s on you," he told Tom's Guide at the Cyber Security Summit 2013, held on Sept. 25 in New York City.
"There are services out there [that offer privacy] up to a certain point," Sachs said. "You want encrypted phone calls? There's an app for that."
Sachs mentioned Wickr, a mobile app for sending self-destructing encrypted text, video, audio and picture messages, as an example.
Verizon's job, according to Sachs, is to provide reliable, accessible communications between its customers.
"People are more interested in [are my calls going through] than 'Are you a spy for the NSA?'" he said.
Information security specialists, Sachs explained, think of their job as having three parts: confidentiality, integrity and availability (often reduced to the acronym CIA).
Different companies, by nature of the services they provide, necessarily prioritize one of the three over the other.
Verizon, Sachs said, prioritizes availability. That means that if the company ever has to it will make sacrifices in the areas of confidentiality and integrity in order to ensure that it can continue to meet customers' messaging needs.
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