During the late 1970s and 1980s, AT&T conducted an iconic “reach out and touch someone” advertising campaign to encourage consumers to call their friends, family, and classmates. Back then, it was old school -- landlines. The campaign ranked #80 on Ad Age's list of the 100 top ad campaigns from the last century.
Now, we learn a little more about how extensive pervasive surveillance activities are at AT&T facilities to help law enforcement reach out and touch persons. Yesterday, the Intercept reported:
"The NSA considers AT&T to be one of its most trusted partners and has lauded the company’s “extreme willingness to help.” It is a collaboration that dates back decades. Little known, however, is that its scope is not restricted to AT&T’s customers. According to the NSA’s documents, it values AT&T not only because it "has access to information that transits the nation," but also because it maintains unique relationships with other phone and internet providers. The NSA exploits these relationships for surveillance purposes, commandeering AT&T’s massive infrastructure and using it as a platform to covertly tap into communications processed by other companies.”
The new report describes in detail the activities at eight AT&T facilities in major cities across the United States. Consumers who use other branded wireless service providers are also affected:
"Because of AT&T’s position as one of the U.S.’s leading telecommunications companies, it has a large network that is frequently used by other providers to transport their customers’ data. Companies that “peer” with AT&T include the American telecommunications giants Sprint, Cogent Communications, and Level 3, as well as foreign companies such as Sweden’s Telia, India’s Tata Communications, Italy’s Telecom Italia, and Germany’s Deutsche Telekom."
It was five years ago this month that the public learned about extensive surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). Back then, the Guardian UK newspaper reported about a court order allowing the NSA to spy on U.S. citizens. The revelations continued, and by 2016 we'd learned about NSA code inserted in Android operating system software, the FISA Court and how it undermines the public's trust, the importance of metadata and how much it reveals about you (despite some politicians' claims otherwise), the unintended consequences from broad NSA surveillance, U.S. government spy agencies' goal to break all encryption methods, warrantless searches of U.S. citizens' phone calls and e-mail messages, the NSA's facial image data collection program, the data collection programs included ordinary (e.g., innocent) citizens besides legal targets, and how most hi-tech and telecommunications companies assisted the government with its spy programs. We knew before that AT&T was probably the best collaborator, and now we know more about why.
Content vacuumed up during the surveillance includes consumers' phone calls, text messages, e-mail messages, and internet activity. The latest report by the Intercept also described:
"The messages that the NSA had unlawfully collected were swept up using a method of surveillance known as “upstream,” which the agency still deploys for other surveillance programs authorized under both Section 702 of FISA and Executive Order 12333. The upstream method involves tapping into communications as they are passing across internet networks – precisely the kind of electronic eavesdropping that appears to have taken place at the eight locations identified by The Intercept."
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden commented on Twitter:
This thread has some great behind-the-scenes details about how a couple reporters just managed to confirm a story people have been trying to nail since 2005: how and where @NSAGov and @ATT are tapping into America's internet communications. https://t.co/smNnMxaVB3— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) June 25, 2018