AT&T Has Been Enabling The NSA's Spying On The Internet

Photo: Jacob Carter/Rex/REX USA.
Rough news, guys: Big Brother is watching — and AT&T has apparently been aiding and abetting its view for a full decade.

Newly released reportage from The New York Times indicates that the telecom giant was a special partner to the government surveillance agency between the years of 2003 and 2013. During that time, AT&T participated in a range of classified activities, including technical assistance in wiretapping the United Nations' Internet activities, according to documents obtained by the Times.

More revealing is the fact that this partnership was much larger than other similar NSA collaborations, at more than double the size of the next-largest program of this variety: The intelligence agency installed its equipment at 17 hubs in the U.S., and AT&T employees reportedly had premier access to new monitoring technology.

It's hardly fresh knowledge that wiretapping and surveillance are occurring in the first place, but this latest documentation makes clear that the AT&T and NSA partnership was unprecedentedly entrenched: At one point, the document refers to the relationship as "highly collaborative"; at another, AT&T is commended for its "extreme willingness to help," as noted by the NYT.

Government officials were also chastised for not minding their manners. "This is a partnership, not a contractual relationship," another document read.

Fletcher Cook, a spokesman for AT&T, refuted that association in a statement to Refinery29 this morning. "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," he wrote in an email. "For example, in a kidnapping situation we could provide help tracking down called numbers to assist law enforcement.” Outreach to the NSA had not been returned at the time of publishing.

As daily life in America becomes increasingly bound to an online existence, questions about where civil liberty, cybersecurity, and privacy collide crop up constantly — and that's unlikely to change anytime soon.

One thing is clear, though: The quest to keep American security interests safe is often at odds with the concept of online privacy. The documents don't reflect the most current state of collaborative surveillance by the NSA and AT&T (or other telecom companies); it could be several more years before we fully understand who is watching us right now.

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