Based upon recently released reports, experts have deduced that while many telecommunications companies helped the National Security Agency (NSA) perform various spy programs, AT&T had a closer relationship with the agency. The New York Times reported:
"... the relationship with AT&T has been considered unique and especially productive. One document described it as “highly collaborative,” while another lauded the company’s “extreme willingness to help.” AT&T’s cooperation has involved a broad range of classified activities... from 2003 to 2013. AT&T has given the N.S.A. access, through several methods covered under different legal rules, to billions of emails as they have flowed across its domestic networks. It provided technical assistance in carrying out a secret court order permitting the wiretapping of all Internet communications at the United Nations headquarters, a customer of AT&T... The N.S.A.’s top-secret budget in 2013 for the AT&T partnership was more than twice that of the next-largest such program, according to the documents. The company installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its Internet hubs on American soil..."
"After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, AT&T and MCI were instrumental in the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping programs, according to a draft report by the N.S.A.’s inspector general. The report, disclosed by Mr. Snowden and previously published by The Guardian, does not identify the companies by name but describes their market share in numbers that correspond to those two businesses..."
The New York Times and ProPublica reviewed the documents jointly.
What can consumers make of this? I see three messages.
First, ProPublica described well the privacy concerns with online surveillance:
".., a single email traverses the Internet in hundreds of tiny slices, called “packets,’’ that travel separate routes. Grabbing even one email requires a computer search of many slices of other people’s messages. Privacy advocates have long argued in court that grabbing portions of so many emails — involving people not suspected of anything — is a violation of the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures provided by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties group, is now hoping that the new documents will bolster their claims in a long-running case, Jewel v. NSA."
Second, after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 American citizens wanted safety. It matters how government achieves safety while adhering to our values. Some people seem quick to trade freedoms for security. A wise person once said, you can't just run away from the Fourth Amendment.
Third, if you're the NSA and need to reach out and touch somebody, AT&T is your go-to company: