ANALYSIS: AT&T and NSA - a highly collaborative relationship

It has been two years since Edward Snowden leaked numerous global surveillance programs to the worldwide press, and in August this year, fresh analysis of these documents has added a new twist to the tale.

Although it is widely known that US telecoms firms are obliged to work with the national security agency (NSA) on internet monitoring – courtesy of a number of legal requirements – Snowden’s filles have revealed that the NSA shared a much closer relationship with AT&T compared to other operators. One document described AT&T as “highly collaborative” and another applauded its “extreme willingness to help”.

The documents revealed an enormous NSA budget for the installation of government monitoring equipment at a vast number of AT&T sites across the US; more than double the amount it spent with Verizon. According to the documents, NSA surveillance is installed in at least 17 of AT&T’s internet hubs across North America. 

Additionally, A&T had agreed a partnership with the NSA to become a “test-bed” for new NSA tracking systems, enabling the government to refine its spying methods.

These documents have painted a dark picture of AT&T, but analysts predict that it will not deliver any long-term damage to its business.

“Optically, this doesn’t look good for AT&T,” John Butler, senior telecoms analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence told local reporters. “[That said] I fail to see any material impact on its business coming from this.”

A temporary set-back seems inevitable as consumers and businesses alike become concerned over the privacy of their data, but Roger Enter, analyst at Recon Analytics, told Bloomberg that he expects the news to prompt action from AT&T. 

“[AT&T] might get a blow-back,” Enter said. “[But] this story is one of those triggers that will let them evaluate if they want to continue this program and to what extent they want to continue.”

At the time of writing, AT&T has not wished to discuss the accusations in detail and has instead refuted the allegations in a short statement.

In an emailed response, AT&T spokesperson Fletcher Cook said: “We do not provide information to any investigating authorities without a court order or other mandatory process 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.”


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