But the reporters who combed through the new documents from Snowden write that the agency’s relationship with AT&T “has been considered unique and especially productive”.
“Under a decades-old program with the government, telecom giant AT&T in 2003 led the way on a new collection capability that the National Security Agency said amounted to a “‘live’ presence on the global net” and would forward 400 billion Internet metadata records in one of its first months of operation, The New York Times reported. The following April, the Guardian and the Washington Post were awarded a Pulitzer prize for reporting on the story.
Another file revealed that the company also gave the agency access to its Internet service provider networks. In one specific situation, the nation’s second largest carrier was able to provide the technical know-how to help the NSA fulfill a secret court order that allowed the agency to conduct wiretaps on the United Nations’ Internet communications that took place at UN headquarters.
The joint reporting revealed that AT&T “installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its Internet hubs on American soil, far more than its similarly sized competitor, Verizon”.
When asked to comment about the partnership, AT&T didn’t directly answer to the allegation.
The report says that despite the details contained in the documents, it remains unclear whether or not these AT&T programs are still in effect today.
“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”, Brad Burns, an AT&T spokesman, told The Times and ProPublica in response to recent inquiries.
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At the same time, the government has been fighting in court to keep the identities of its telecom partners hidden. Several former intelligence officials confirmed that finding.
The document didn’t directly state AT&T as NSA’s partner, instead it used code names.
Verizon and the former MCI – which Verizon purchased in 2006 – are part of another program, codenamed Stormbrew.
President Barack Obama signed a bill earlier this year reforming the way the NSA collects electronic communications.
A Fairview fiber optic cable damaged during the 2011 Japan quake, for example, was repaired on the same date as an AT&T cable.