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AT&T helped NSA spy on Internet users, and here’s how they did it

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AT&T helped NSA spy on Internet users, and here’s how they did it

Verizon finally has a trump card it can reliably play against chief rival AT&T. No matter how bad things get, at least Verizon wasn’t the one that helped the National Security Agency (NSA) spy on Internet traffic. According to a stunningly detailed new report originally released by the New York Times, new documents from the government agency reveal that AT&T has been collaborating with the U.S. government since 2003, forming a “highly collaborative” relationship based on the telecommunication giant’s “extreme willingness to help.”

The report says that AT&T allowed the NSA access to “billions of emails” and also “provided technical assistance” in a move that ultimately allowed the snooping agency to wiretap all the Internet activity that took place in the United Nations headquarters, conveniently an AT&T user.

More concerning still is the apparent eagerness with which the telecom company helped the U.S. government in its endeavors. In one previously classified document, NSA agents are reminded to be cordial at AT&T — “This is a partnership, not a contractual relationship,” the report reads.

The program with AT&T, named Fairview by the NSA, cost the agency $188 billion, amounting to twice the amount spent on the next most robust program of the same purpose. While Edward Snowden’s whistle-blowing in 2013 has made it more difficult to determine the extent of the relationship between the telecommunications leader and the government agency today, the comprehensiveness of their partnership, previously unknown to the public, has certainly raised red flags everywhere.

In an interview with the Times, AT&T spokesman Brad Burns insisted, “We do not voluntarily provide information to any investigating authorities other than if a person’s life is in danger and time is of the essence.” He did not provide any further details, but it does seem difficult to imagine that such large volumes of traffic and data were all directly and immediately applicable to the endangerment of human lives.

In its decade of documented collaboration, the NSA garnered “massive amounts of data” (including 60 million foreign-to-foreign emails a day in 2013), all courtesy of AT&T. So if you’re thinking of switching carriers, you may want to take the latest Times report into consideration in making your choice.

Image: AP/Eric Gay

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