Why AT&T's 'Willingness' To Help NSA Is Alarming - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
Government // Mobile & Wireless
News
8/17/2015
12:05 PM
50%
50%

Why AT&T's 'Willingness' To Help NSA Is Alarming

Snowden documents show AT&T was all too happy to aid the NSA spy on Americans. Are we really that surprised?

14 Security Fails That Cost Executives Their Jobs
14 Security Fails That Cost Executives Their Jobs
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

The NSA would have had a much more difficult time spying on Americans were it not for the comfortable, chummy partnership the government forged with AT&T, say new documents released by Edward Snowden.

AT&T worked closely with the government and ensured the agency had access to emails and call records for a period spanning decades.

Snowden's bombshell revelations exploded two years ago. The shock and awe campaign is over. Since then, a trickle of information continues to flow like lava -- slowly, but still searingly hot -- with new and unsettling revelations. The latest comes from the New York Times, which was privy to more documents shared by Snowden.

This time, Snowden detailed the nature of the relationship between the NSA and one of its top partners: AT&T.

In an incredible bit of irony, the NSA's largest domestic spying program, in action since 1985, is called Fairview. (In hindsight, it doesn't seem all that "fair" to US citizens, does it?)

(Image: Linda Jo Heilman/iStockphoto)

(Image: Linda Jo Heilman/iStockphoto)

The documents suggest AT&T provided the NSA with access to a variety of information, such as billions of emails, as they transited its wired Internet hubs in the United States. AT&T helped the NSA spy on the United Nations, an AT&T customer, thanks to technical assistance in carrying out a secret court order.

A separate program, called Stormbrew, was aided by Verizon and MCI, but the NSA spent twice as much money on Fairview.

Things took a turn after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The documents say AT&T started sending email and phone call data to the NSA "within days" after the Bush Administration began warrantless surveillance in October 2001. Later, in September 2003, AT&T was first to initiate a new data-gathering program that gave the NSA, in effect, a "live" presence on the World Wide Web. By 2011, AT&T was handing over 1.1 billion domestic phone call records on a daily basis. AT&T also made sure the NSA had access to the network traffic of its foreign business partners, which aren't protected by the same privacy laws as US citizens.

That AT&T helped the NSA isn't a surprise.

This is something we've already had time to digest. And, to be fair, AT&T wasn't alone. Other telecommunications providers surely played a role in collecting data in bulk for the government's spy agencies.

[Do you think the US should hold the lead on Internet governance? See ICANN Proposal: Internet With Less US Oversight.]

What's particularly galling here is the nature of the relationship between AT&T and the NSA, as per the documents. One document suggests the relationship was "highly collaborative." Another praised AT&T's "extreme willingness to help." Yet another reminded NSA employees that they should be nice to AT&T because, "this is a partnership, not a contractual relationship."

The NSA shows no lack of creativity in finding ways to gather information. Earlier this year, we learned that five governments colluded to see about infecting smartphones with spyware.

Snowden's latest leak certainly stings, but this particular bite is one with which we've become all too familiar.

Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Oldest First  |  Newest First  |  Threaded View
<<   <   Page 3 / 3
TerryB
50%
50%
TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
9/21/2015 | 9:37:38 AM
Re: AT&T has long history of this
>>With regard to bringing down bookies, so what?

The point is they (FBI) couldn't play by the rules any better in 1960's than the NSA does now. You don't see the similarity in the approach? Or is your point as long as you are targeting bad guys (by their definition), anything is OK?
tjgkg
50%
50%
tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
10/15/2015 | 1:50:18 PM
Re: AT&T has long history of this
The way Snowden presents this it is like the Gestapo or KGB and we are all potential enemies of the State. I don't buy that. I think the FBI and NSA have to improvise in order to catch smart bad guys. It is like drawing up gun laws in the hope that outlaws will not obtain guns. It won't happen. Bookies, which were part of organized crime, ARE bad guys and need to be stopped. Terrorists pose a major threat to this country. Of that there is no doubt. So to me going after them is not bringing back the Gestapo/KGB age. We are not that kind of a country. These agencies are operating not on an ideology like Mein Kampf or Communism, they are trying to protect our country.
TerryB
50%
50%
TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
10/15/2015 | 2:35:30 PM
Re: AT&T has long history of this
You are pretty trusting soul of your government, I hope you are right. Hitler thought he was doing the best thing for Germany, regardless of what it morphed into.

The problem with your idea that anything is fair game to catch "bad guys", not all of us agree what is bad. I don't gamble at all but don't agree gambling should be a crime. Exactly who is the victim in that exercise? Bookies were just trying to make living in a non violent way (versus sticking you up and taking your money).

That's the problem I see with your lack of respect of due process, many things that are "illegal" today shouldn't be in a lot of people's eyes. We can all agree a suicide bomber should be stopped, regardless of his motivation. That's an easy definition of terrorist. What about environmental activists, socialists, atheists, etc? Throw the "terrorist" tag on them and then they are fair game? Hassad calls his opposition in Syria terrorists. You OK with using spy satellites to catch people smoking weed in their backyard? What if government decides alcohol is just too much trouble and now you can't legally drink your favorite beer anymore? Still OK with Big Brother doing whatever the hell they want to catch "criminals"?

That's the problem I have with your position. And of all your posts I've read, probably first time I've ever disagreed with your observations, you are a pretty sharp guy.

One note on your gun comment. Those of you make that comment easily, ignoring the effect of what being legal means to price. If guns were illegal/controlled, sure organized crime could still get them. But the mafia isn't the ones walzing into schools and blowing away kids. Insane, unemployed morons who have been doing this stuff would not be able to afford an arsenal, probably not a single gun. Guns are not easy to smuggle like drugs, black market prices would be astronomical.

And I love the argument owning a gun protects against government turning against the people. Good luck with that when you have a gun and they have a drone. And systems that track your conversations and whereabouts at all times.
tjgkg
50%
50%
tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
10/16/2015 | 8:02:33 AM
Re: AT&T has long history of this
The US government is entirely different from the Hitler dictatorship. The NSA and FBI are not the Gestapo. They are targeting terrorist groups and not rounding up ethnic groups for extermination based on the rantings of a single man.

Keeping the country safe is much different than ethnic cleansing and i trust our government to do the right thing. Unlike Hitler or Stalin governments, there are remedies to counter abuse of power.

With regard to gambling, the bookies that were being targeted were tax evaders. That is illegal. Much of the gambling was fixed and sponsored by organized crime which is not non violent. Even two bit bookies are not necessarily non violent either.

You are taking examples and blowing them out of proportion. Smoking weed is illegal in most states regardless of whether it is done on private property. But the government is not going to use drones to track that. Niether are they going to get rid of alcohol. They tried that once before.

The bottom line is that i am all for going after terrorists with every tool we have. They operate outside the law, respect no borders, respect no lives and have a toxic agenda. Sometimes you have to take the gloves off and fight like your life depends on it.
<<   <   Page 3 / 3
Commentary
Gartner Forecast Sees 7.3% Shrinkage in IT Spending for 2020
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  7/15/2020
Slideshows
10 Ways AI Is Transforming Enterprise Software
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  7/13/2020
Commentary
IT Career Paths You May Not Have Considered
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  6/30/2020
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Video
Current Issue
Key to Cloud Success: The Right Management
This IT Trend highlights some of the steps IT teams can take to keep their cloud environments running in a safe, efficient manner.
Slideshows
Flash Poll