Maybe Google, Microsoft and Apple would be less upset about how the National Security Agency’s data surveillance tactics are hurting their reputations if the government compensated them with regular payouts. The New York Times reports that the Central Intelligence Agency is paying AT&T more than $10 million a year for access to “the company’s vast database of phone records, which includes Americans’ international calls.” AT&T’s huge trove of call records goes beyond its own customers and also includes phone calls made through the carrier’s network equipment.
The good news, however, is that the CIA does actually put some privacy safeguards in place for domestic callers. The Times says that “most of the call logs provided by AT&T involve foreign-to-foreign calls, but when the company produces records of international calls with one end in the United States, it does not disclose the identity of the Americans and ‘masks’ several digits of their phone numbers.” Even so, the CIA can still refer such “masked” phone numbers over to the FBI, which can then subpoena AT&T to hand over the unmasked data.
UPDATE: AT&T has issued the following statement in response to the Times’ article: “In all cases, whenever any governmental entity anywhere seeks information from us, we ensure that the request and our response are completely lawful and proper. We ensure that we maintain customer information in compliance with the laws of the United States and other countries where information may be maintained. Like all telecom providers, we routinely charge governments for producing the information provided. We do not comment on questions concerning national security.”