Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

AT&T Reportedly Has a Special Working Relationship With the NSA Because of Its Deep Ties to Communications Infrastructure

Ryan Gallagher and Henrik Moltke, the Intercept:

Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. In each of these cities, The Intercept has identified an AT&T facility containing networking equipment that transports large quantities of internet traffic across the United States and the world. A body of evidence – including classified NSA documents, public records, and interviews with several former AT&T employees – indicates that the buildings are central to an NSA spying initiative that has for years monitored billions of emails, phone calls, and online chats passing across U.S. territory.

The NSA considers AT&T to be one of its most trusted partners and has lauded the company’s “extreme willingness to help.” It is a collaboration that dates back decades. Little known, however, is that its scope is not restricted to AT&T’s customers. According to the NSA’s documents, it values AT&T not only because it “has access to information that transits the nation,” but also because it maintains unique relationships with other phone and internet providers. The NSA exploits these relationships for surveillance purposes, commandeering AT&T’s massive infrastructure and using it as a platform to covertly tap into communications processed by other companies.

This article is fairly American-centric, because it is unconstitutional for the NSA to be monitoring the contents of Americans’ communications. But it also raises questions about the extent to which the American government is monitoring the world’s communications.

To the best of my understanding, the NSA is legally able to gather intelligence from any non-U.S. communications. The main reason they didn’t do so historically was because it’s not as efficient as a more targeted collection sttategy. But, after building a massive data centre in Utah and creating software to automatically sift through all they collect, it has become reasonable for them to broaden their scope. This article from the Intercept reinforces that: AT&T is a valuable NSA partner because they have access to, effectively, much of the world’s communications through their peering agreements. Legally, this is apparently fine by the NSA’s mandate; ethically, it’s outrageous. My communications and yours, probably, have been scooped up and could be sitting on a hard drive somewhere in the United States, without a warrant or any suspicion of wrongdoing, in a repugnant dismissal of common-sense morals.