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CIA Is Paying AT&T For Phone Data

Jeremy Fuster |
November 7, 2013 | 10:55 a.m. PST

Executive Producer

A New York Times report released Thursday shows that the CIA has been paying AT&T more than $10 million for access to the company's phone records, including those of people who are not customers. 

According to anonymous government officials, AT&T's cooperation with the CIA was formed through a voluntary contract instead of a court order forcing them to provide information. The company provides the CIA with call records related to phone numbers of terrorism suspects. AT&T's database includes both foreign and domestic calls and includes any call handled by their network equipment, regardless of whether it was made on the company's calling plan.

There are some privacy measures. Most of the CIA's requests concern phone calls made outside the U.S., and any domestic phone numbers sent to the CIA have several digits "masked" and the identity of the phone user withheld.  However, the CIA can send the numbers to the FBI, who can force AT&T to provide the full data with a subpoena. 

This isn't the first time AT&T has willingly worked with the government. During the Bush presidency, it allowed the NSA to install equipment in its facilities to track phone and internet activity and embedded employees in FBI and DEA offices to provide phone records pertaining to their cases. The FBI embedding was shut down in 2007 after the U.S. Justice Department's Inspector General criticized officials for collection Americans' data without a subpoena.

While the debate in Washington over the NSA and CIA's surveillance policies continues to move slowly, there is a greater sense of urgency in Europe. AT&T is considering purchasing the European telecom company Vodafone, which has led to a larger demand from European lawmakers for stricter regulation of telecom information sharing and greater transparency from the companies. 

Read the full story at The New York Times here.

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