National Security Agency (NSA) relied on its decades of long partnership AT&T Inc (NASDAQ:T) on spying on vast quantities of Internet traffic that are passing through the United States. Though it is well-known that NSA and US telecommunications work hand to hand for quite a while, the newly disclosed document of NSA suggests that its relationship with Dallas based AT&T is productive as well as unique.
AT&T got remarks such as “highly collaborative,” and “extreme willingness to help” in the document. According to the document AT&T has given NSA access to billions of emails from the time 2003 to 2013.
For the year 2013, NSA’s top secret budget for the AT&T partnership was more than twice that of the next largest such program. AT&T Inc reached a higher height than its competitor Verizon, which is suggested by the fact that the company has installed surveillance equipment in 17 Internet hubs of US. One of the notes of this NSA document quotes, “This is a partnership, but not a contractual relationship” for the NSA officials while visiting AT&T facilities.
Two years ago, when the Snowden revelations set off a global debate over surveillance, some Silicon Valley technology companies expressed anger as NSA intrusions and have rolled out new encryption to thwart them. However the telecommunication companies remained silent only for bulk phone records in 2014 Verizon unsuccessfully challenged a court order.
When all this chaos was going on, in the meanwhile the government was fighting hard in court to keep the telecom partner identities hidden. Recently, some AT&T customers claimed NSA’s internet tapping violated the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches.
And, after Obama administration argued that public discussion of telecom surveillance efforts would reveal state secrets and damage national security, key portions of the lawsuit were dismissed by a federal judge.
NSA documents refer corporate partnerships run by the agency’s Special Source Operations division by using code names and hence does not identify AT&T or any other such companies. According to a draft report by the NSA’s inspector general, AT&T and MCI Companies were instrumental in the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping programs after the 11th Sept attacks. This report, which was disclosed by Snowden in the past does not identify the companies by name but describes their market share numbers that correspond to those businesses.
Within just a few days AT&T started to turn over emails and phone calls, while MCI did not start until February 2002, when in October 2011 the warrant-less surveillance began. After that, over 1.1 billion domestic cell phone call records a day were handed by AT&T to NSA from 2011 and this revelation is striking because intelligence officials claimed that it consisted mostly of landline phone records regarding technical reasons.
The document further states that AT&T was the first partner to turn on a new collection capability and within a month of its operation, the agency was forwarded 400 billion Internet metadata records including who contacted whom and other details.
According to Engadget, in a statement, AT&T maintains that it doesn’t provide information to authorities “without a court order or other mandatory process,” and only makes exceptions when a “person’s life is in danger and time is of the essence,” such as in a kidnapping.