Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

If you buy through a BGR link, we may earn an affiliate commission, helping support our expert product labs.

How AT&T helped the NSA spy on Internet traffic

Published Aug 17th, 2015 7:45AM EDT

For decades, AT&T actively helped the NSA engage in widespread surveillance on both phone calls and Internet traffic. Citing documents made available by former NSA employee Edward Snowden, The New York Times and ProPublica both report that AT&T and the NSA have long shared a working relationship that is much closer than most people previously imagined.

In what one classified document termed a “highly collaborative” relationship, AT&T employed a number of varying methods to help the NSA acquire an incomprehensible amount of data.

DON’T MISS: Design Fail: Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5 and S6 Edge+ keyboard cover doesn’t even work

In addition to installing surveillance equipment in Internet hubs across as many as 17 U.S. cities, the report adds that Ma Bell even helped the spy agency wiretap Internet communications at the United Nations’ New York City headquarters.

The Times report relays that while AT&T’s cooperation with the NSA goes back as far as the mid-80s, things really picked up in the wake of 9/11. By 2003, an NSA program dubbed Fairview (full slidedeck available here) began keeping tabs, in real time no less, on an insane amount of Internet communications.

In one of its first months of operation, the Fairview program forwarded to the agency 400 billion Internet metadata records — which include who contacted whom and other details, but not what they said — and was “forwarding more than one million emails a day to the keyword selection system” at the agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Md.

By 2011, AT&T was providing the NSA with over 1 billion domestic cellphone records a day.

While the documents provided by Snowden don’t explicitly mention AT&T by name, the references made in regards to the NSA’s close partner are such that it’s rather clear which company they’re referring to.

As to the extent of AT&T’s relationship with the NSA today, that remains unclear. While it stands to reason that the two entities are still working together in some capacity, the documents provided by Snowden only cover a period ranging from 2003 through 2013. Remember, when Snowden’s revelations were initially brought to light, there was an immediate uproar and backlash from consumers who were none too thrilled that the companies they trusted with their privacy were so willing to share ostensibly secure communications with the Government.

For what it’s worth, AT&T seemingly downplayed its relationship with the NSA in a statement provided to CNN over the weekend. Responding to a request for comment, AT&T said that its assistance was only provided under the umbrella of a court order and when “a person’s life is in danger” and when “time is of the essence.”

Make sure to hit the source link below for the full story on the NSA’s cozy relationship with AT&T, though at this point it’s hard to be truly surprised at how extensive the NSA’s spying network was and perhaps still is.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.