AT&T Partnered With The NSA To Help Spy On Billions Of Emails



AT&T, the nation’s second-largest cell phone carrier, has a long relationship with the National Security Agency that allows the spy agency to carefully monitor huge amounts of internet traffic, according to a new round of documents leaked by whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The documents, which Snowden provided to reporters at the New York Times and ProPublica, detail a “highly collaborative” relationship between the NSA and the telecom company.

According to the Times and ProPublica, AT&T’s cooperation with the agency has given NSA officials access to billions of emails and has aided the execution of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping programs. It’s also facilitated the monitoring of communications at the United Nations headquarters, since the U.N. is an AT&T customer.

The fact that large cell phone companies like AT&T and Verizon are helping the NSA monitor their customers’ phone calls has previously been reported. Because AT&T operates such a large portion of the country’s internet and cell phone accounts, it’s no secret that the company is a particularly important source of information for the NSA.

But the reporters who combed through the new documents from Snowden write that the agency’s relationship with AT&T “has been considered unique and especially productive.” The documents show that AT&T officials have been handing over information about phone calls and emails for more than a decade — including “massive amounts of data” that other companies like Verizon initially did not provide, like foreign communication that falls outside the purview of domestic wiretapping laws. It was also the first company to help the NSA create a new way to collect metadata that helped the spy agency see who was getting in contact with each other.

The activity stretches back years. Immediately after the September 11th terrorist attacks, the internal documents show that AT&T handed over 1.1 billion customer calling records per day to NSA officials.

It’s unclear if the partnership between the two continues to operate this way today. Since Snowden first began releasing documents in 2013, the NSA has faced heightened scrutiny and some legislative pushes to rein in its surveillance powers. Earlier this year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the NSA’s sprawling database of U.S. phone calls is not authorized by federal law.

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress