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NYT: CIA pays AT&T $10M per year for international call data

updated 01:18 pm EST, Thu November 7, 2013

Voluntary contract for call data claimed between CIA, AT&T

The CIA has allegedly paid out more than $10 million per year to AT&T for access to data relating to international calls, according to a report. The transfer of metadata between the carrier and the agency is said by the New York Times to be a "voluntary contract," one that is performed freely rather than requiring court orders and subpoenas, unlike that of notorious surveillance program PRISM.

It is alleged that the metadata passed includes the date and time of a call, the duration, and the starting and end points of the call. Though the call logs are mostly for purely international calls that use AT&T-controlled equipment, the company still censors several digits in the instance that either of the callers happens to be in the US. These can still be unmasked through a request from the CIA made via the FBI, which unlike the CIA, is legally allowed to investigate domestically.

The nature of the deal between the CIA and AT&T is considerably different to that of surveillance carried out under PRISM and similar schemes, though there is likely to be some duplication between the two. In this instance, there is no legal compulsion for AT&T to provide the data, and it is being handsomely compensated for the act.

The existence of the program was not confirmed by either side. A spokesperson for the CIA told the report that intelligence collection activities were lawful and "subject to extensive oversight." An AT&T spokesperson advised "We value our customers' privacy and work hard to protect it by ensuring compliance with the law in all respects. We do not comment on questions concerning national security."

Surveillance has already put AT&T in deep water internationally. Plans to acquire foreign carriers such as Vodafone may have to be delayed, with the foreign actions of the company facing scrutiny from European officials.

by MacNN Staff



  1. gprovida

    Junior Member

    Joined: 02-14-06

    Lets see compliance with a weak, unenforced, and commercially driven set of US privacy laws is a rather low bar to get over. It would more interesting to see if AT&T would meet European privacy laws and thereby go beyond the anemic US law. Now that would be impressive.

  1. jpellino

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 10-29-99

    "the company still censors several digits "

    Phone numbers are made of numerical digits.
    Numerical digits are what you use in math.
    Math is hard.

    Sounds un-crakcable to me! Let'er rip!

  1. reader50


    Joined: 06-01-00

    I don't see a problem if AT&T passes on the payments to the people making the calls. The callers get discounts on their bills, and AT&T would not profit from selling the information. See how quickly AT&T would actually become concerned about customer privacy if the profit angle went away.

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