Thursday, November 07, 2013

AT&T said to rake in $10 million annually by supplying call data to CIA

The NSA may be "taking" data from wherever it wants, but some spy agencies apparently pay for their information. A new report in the New York Times, issued on Thursday, says that the CIA pays AT&T over $10 million annually for the company's call data.

The report cited unnamed government officials who said the spy agency uses the classified program for -- what else -- the surveillance of terrorism suspects overseas. This is not data that is coerced from AT&T, or data that even involves a court order.
The cooperation is conducted under a voluntary contract, not under subpoenas or court orders compelling the company to participate, according to the officials. The C.I.A. supplies phone numbers of overseas terrorism suspects, and AT&T searches its database and provides records of calls that may help identify foreign associates, the officials said. The company has a huge archive of data on phone calls, both foreign and domestic, that were handled by its network equipment, not just those of its own customers.
That final statement means that the data from calls that roam onto AT&T's network from other network's phones are also supplied.

The CIA is prohibited from spying on the domestic activities of Americans. Thus, while most of the call logs provided by AT&T involve foreign-to-foreign calls, if the company provides records of international calls with one end based in the United States, the identity of the Americans involved are redacted as AT&T "masks” several digits of the phone numbers, the officials said.

Such masked numbers, though, can be referred by the CIA to the FBI, which can then issue an administrative subpoena requiring AT&T to provide the uncensored data. The FBI could then handle the domestic investigation, although it may sometimes shares information about the Americans involved in the calls with the CIA, the officials said.

The revelations about the CIA and AT&T come at a bad time for any such spying activity. Information leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has many up in arms about such spying, and AT&T making a profit on such data may not be news that is welcomed by many, except perhaps by AT&T shareholders.

No comments: