New documents released by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden show that telecommunications giant AT&T was for years the most cooperative and prolific provider of Internet and phone data to the NSA.
While it was previously known that US telecommunications companies provided the NSA with information, the new documents detail the particularly close working relationship between AT&T and the intelligence agency, which one of the leaked documents described as “highly collaborative,” according to joint document review by The New York Times and ProPublica. Another described AT&T’s “extreme willingness to help.”
According to the documents, which cover a period from 2003 to 2013, AT&T shared billions of emails and phone records from its domestic networks with the spy agency.
The document review also shows that in addition to sharing information from its own networks, AT&T gave the NSA access to other the company’s networks: AT&T’s “corporate relationships provide unique accesses to other telecoms and I.S.P.s,” one document from 2013 states, using the acronym for “Internet service providers.”
See the key documents from the NSA at the links below:
- Special Source Operations: Corporate Partner Access
- Cyber Threats and Special Source Operations
- Excerpts from the Spy Dictionary
- NSA’s Corporate Portfolio
- One Million Emails a Day From AT&T
- Fairview Defined
- Fairview Data Schematics
- AT&T Confirms “Foreignness” for Stormbrew
NSA’s Special Source Operations Newsletter Excerpts
- Spying on the United Nations
- Billions of AT&T Cellphone Records
- The Cable Break Due to the Japanese Earthquake
- AT&T’s ‘Extreme Willingness to Help’
- AT&T’s ‘Highly Collaborative Nature’
- Verizon’s Cable Station Installs NSA Collection Systems
One particularly striking revelation from the report is that, starting in 2011, AT&T began sharing 1.1 billion cellphone calling records per day with the NSA.
In an interview with PBS NewsHour, AT&T Spokesman Brad burns said:
“We do not provide information to any investigating authorities without a court order or other mandatory process 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.”
After Snowden’s original disclosures, intelligence officials told the press that, for technical reasons, most of the records of Americans’ phone calls that the NSA gathered were from land lines, according to the report. The newly-released documents appear to refute that assertion.
The documents also shed light on the voluntary nature of the information sharing. Because U.S. wiretapping laws do not apply to emails sent between citizens of foreign countries, telecommunication companies handed them them over to the NSA voluntarily, rather than in response to court orders, the report said.
It is unclear whether AT&T and other companies continued the practice of voluntarily handing over such information.
In 2013, AT&T refused to share with stockholders information about its cooperation with U.S. intelligence services, saying it was not required to disclose what it did with customers’ data.
In a letter from the period, sent to the Securities and Exchange Commission, AT&T said that it protects customer information and complies with government records requests “only to the extent required by law.”
“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,” Brad Burns, an AT&T spokesman, told The Times and ProPublica in response to recent inquiries.