The most recent release of secret documents by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden makes it clear that telecom giant AT&T has been actively cooperating with the NSA in its large scale program to spy on the internet traffic of Americans. Based on the documents, it appears that AT&T has been cooperating extensively with the NSA in developing and implementing its surveillance programs since as early as 2003, making it the first telecom to cooperate with the government in its unconstitutional-by-any-standard domestic spying program. Moreover, the Snowden documents make it clear that AT&T was an active “partner” with U.S. authorities, working closely with the NSA to set up the program to spy on both foreigners and American citizens.
When asked to comment on the damning new Snowden documents, AT&T spokesman Brad Burns replied with a statement by email: “We do not voluntarily provide information to any investigating authorities other than if a person’s life is in danger and time is of the essence. For example, in a kidnapping situation we could provide help tracking down called numbers to assist law enforcement.”
More on AT&T’s “partnership” with NSA to spy on American’s internet traffic
The New York Times released the documents and published an article on Saturday, detailing that the iconic American telecom firm has been helping the spy agency across a wide range of classified activities for more than a decade.
The NSA documents make it crystal clear that the intelligence agency‘s working relationship with AT&T has been very close, making it possible for the NSA to undertake surveillance of both domestic and international Internet communications that were routed through network hubs in the U.S.
According to the NYT article, AT&T put in new surveillance equipment on at least 17 of its American Internet hubs, many more than Verizon Communications installed. The new Snowden documents also showed that AT&T engineers were the first to use new NSA surveillance technologies.
One document described the link between the agency and the telecom in glowing terms: “This is a partnership, not a contractual relationship”.
AT&T’s “corporate relationships provide unique accesses to other telecoms and I.S.P.s,” or Internet service providers, noted another NSA document.
The NYT article also highlights that as of 2011, the telecom firm began to provide the NSA with over 1.1 billion domestic cellphone calling records daily after “a push to get this flow operational prior to the 10th anniversary of 9/11.”
The documents also make it clear that AT&T allowing access to foreign-to-foreign Internet traffic has been very useful to the NSA because a large chunk of global Internet communications passes through U.S. network hubs. Moreover, the firm gave access to contents of email traffic several years before Verizon started in March 2013.