According to the New York Times, newly disclosed NSA documents reveal AT&T willingly helped the National Security Agency (NSA) conduct surveillance on large volumes of Internet traffic in the United States. The documents revealing AT&T helped the spy agency in a broad range of classified activities – dated from 2003 to 2013 – were leaked by Edward Snowden.
The telecommunications giant reportedly provided extensive assistance to the NSA in carrying out a secret court order allowing wiretapping of all Internet communications at the United Nations Headquarters.
AT&T demonstrated “extreme willingness” to participate in this surveillance. The company reportedly installed equipment in at least 17 of its Internet hubs, which far exceeds those installed by Verizon Communications Inc. Its engineers were also among the first to use newly invented NSA surveillance technologies.
One NSA document described its links with AT&T as, “a partnership, not a contractual relationship.” Another document stated AT&T’s “corporate relationships provide unique accesses to other telecoms and I.S.P.s,” or Internet service providers.
The NSA’s partnership with AT&T has been extremely important, as the United Nations is an AT&T customer. This enabled the agency to conduct surveillance of international and foreign-to-foreign Internet communications that passed through network hubs in the United States, while operating under various legal rules.
When asked for a comment, AT&T spokesman Brad Burns told Reuters: “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. For example, in a kidnapping situation we could provide help tracking down called numbers to assist law enforcement.”