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AT&T Privacy Communications Government The Internet United States Verizon News

AT&T Helped the NSA Spy On Internet Traffic 82

An anonymous reader writes: Newly disclosed NSA documents show that the agency gained access to billions of emails through a "highly collaborative" relationship with AT&T. The company provided access from 2003 to 2013, including technical assistance to carry out court orders permitting wiretapping. "The company installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its Internet hubs on American soil, far more than its similarly sized competitor, Verizon. And its engineers were the first to try out new surveillance technologies invented by the eavesdropping agency. One document reminds NSA officials to be polite when visiting AT&T facilities, noting, 'This is a partnership, not a contractual relationship.'" The new files don't indicate whether the partnership currently exists, but the government has been doing its best to keep corporate partnerships hidden. The article also notes that "In 2011, AT&T began handing over 1.1 billion domestic cellphone calling records a day to the N.S.A. after 'a push to get this flow operational prior to the 10th anniversary of 9/11,' according to an internal agency newsletter."
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AT&T Helped the NSA Spy On Internet Traffic

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  • Land of the flea! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 15, 2015 @02:49PM (#50323095)

    Home of the slave!

  • it was against the law to refuse the access

    • by ganjadude ( 952775 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @03:00PM (#50323139) Homepage
      is this really news? wasnt it AT&T who we knew had a secret room in one of their buildings years ago??
      • by The Real Dr John ( 716876 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @03:26PM (#50323251) Homepage

        Of course AT&T had a choice, they could have gone to court. That would have stopped it right there. What could the NSA do, shut them down? And yes, this is news because the level of spying and complicity is even worse than previously reported. I am sure as more leaks come out, it will turn out to be far worse still.

        The tech savvy crowd here at /. should be enraged that this is what our government is doing to the Internet. But maybe now that we have heard so much crap about what the government does that it just induces a yawn. I suppose that is a good thing for the NSA. I personally am outraged.

      • I'm not sure if it was AT&T specifically... I mean, I'm sure rumors about AT&T leaked, but what I heard is that all the ISPs do this.
        • by ganjadude ( 952775 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @03:45PM (#50323331) Homepage
          I found it - [] IT

          Room 641A is located in the SBC Communications building at 611 Folsom Street, San Francisco, three floors of which were occupied by AT&T before SBC purchased AT&T.[1] The room was referred to in internal AT&T documents as the SG3 [Study Group 3] Secure Room. It is fed by fiber optic lines from beam splitters installed in fiber optic trunks carrying Internet backbone traffic[3] and, as analyzed by J. Scott Marcus, a former CTO for GTE and a former adviser to the FCC, has access to all Internet traffic that passes through the building, and therefore "the capability to enable surveillance and analysis of internet content on a massive scale, including both overseas and purely domestic traffic."[4] Former director of the NSA's World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, William Binney, has estimated that 10 to 20 such facilities have been installed throughout the United States.[2]

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by Sarusa ( 104047 )

      Maybe RTFA. They were eagerly slobbering the NSA's knob, giving them even more than they were asking for.

      • yes, we have known this for some years now. Im happy to see it making more rounds though
      • Maybe you have no critical thinking ability because of the bias between your ears. In 2001, AT&T had zero choice.

        • by Sarusa ( 104047 )

          Yeah, yeah, there's helping and then there's falling all over yourself to help. ' YOU ARE SO BIAS' - Is this some sort of AT&T fanboy thing? Those are pretty rare.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          You always have a choice. AT&T chose to collude with the government to undermine the US Constitution in exchange for money. That's treason. You're a little too quick to absolve them. It's just like the officers in Nazi Germany that had no choice but to murder innocent Jews. Those are crimes, and they did have a choice. They chose evil instead of good, out of cowardice. Just like AT&T. AT&T are cowards and traitors.

    • it was against the law to refuse the access

      The Fugitive Slave Act made it against the law to help escaped slaves. The Reich Citizenship Law made Jews non-people with no rights. For both of those laws (and many others), people resisted, even though in some cases they risked death in doing so. If what your government is doing is morally wrong, saying that you were just following orders and had no choice isn't good enough...

  • DUH!

    of course ATT and the NSA have been working together i wouldn't surprised if they shared employees!

  • by birukun ( 145245 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @02:59PM (#50323133)

    I remember when the technician in this article was being called out as paranoid and many did not believe it.

    Unfortunately too true. []

    • by fred911 ( 83970 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @03:17PM (#50323209)

      Exactly, the title should read "AT&T Helped the NSA Spy On Internet Traffic now confirmed".

      • The trick then is to find some part of the internet that is not being spied upon, an ISP that can be trusted, trunk lines that are not compromised, etc. I suspect there are naive people out there saying "boy, I'm glad I've got Verizon!"

        So, just assume it is ALL compromised. That means be careful; encrypt stuff, anonymize as much as possible, even use less internet overall. But most people won't do this, they want their twitter. Quite a lot of people seem to have zero concept of privacy so they won't car

        • by Agripa ( 139780 )

          Back before the NSA and FBI implemented their current all encompassing digital surveillance plan, one of the considerations raised was that if it became known, then it would encourage opportunistic and ubiquitous encryption which they had been fighting for years and would have a dire effect on lawful surveillance. Well guess what? All of that has come to pass and ubiquitous and opportunistic encryption of lawful traffic and storage is starting to happen leading to the current cries from law enforcement ab

    • by BcNexus ( 826974 )
      And let's not forget that Joseph Nacchio, former CEO of Qwest, maintains that the series of events that led to his imprisonment began when he refused to capitulate to the government's surveillance demands. []
  • by grep -v '.*' * ( 780312 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @03:16PM (#50323207)
    NSA got access to everything, blah blah. The NSA is our new overlord and conscience. So I'm contrarian here and curious: what did AT&T get out of this?

    Or are they just happy they can listen in to phone calls again way back when the (actual) operators supported party-lines across multiple families and literally did the dialing for you?


    For those of you too young to remember: a party line was a single shared telephone line spread across multiple houses where anyone could pick up the phone and hear a conversation that another family was having -- that's how it was designed; no single line per each room in a house but a single line shared between disparate houses.

    If someone was calling, the ringtone (a clapper striking a physical bell attached to the phone) was a different pattern for each house so the correct person would know to pick up.

    Speed-dial? Touch-tones? Rotary? Dial-tone? No, you flashed the hook to get the attention of the mostly-present operator and verbally told them the name or number to dial for you.

    I've got a phone like that hanging in the kitchen. Unattached and unused for decades, of course, until I give in and pay for the "Twilight Zone" option.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time.

    • by fredrated ( 639554 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @03:44PM (#50323327) Journal

      While in college I worked at one of the last, if not the last, cord board in California in Woodland. It was a gas, plugging in when a light went on, picking outgoing trunk lines to dial through, getting connected to really obscure places, timing calls with paper tickets and clocks. No day ever made the lights light up like the day Elvis died.

    • What did they get out of it? Retroactive immunity for performing illegal warrantless wiretapping at the behest of the government, of course. I remember well back when Obama was starting to get popular and people kept saying how he would be different and bring "hope" and "change", yet supported this attrocity: []
    • by Anonymous Coward

      > what did AT&T get out of this?

      What does any corporation get out of getting on the government's good side? More contracts, less regulation, access to influential people, making them look better compared to the competition, etc.

    • The NSA is our new overlord and conscience. So I'm contrarian here and curious: what did AT&T get out of this?

      Money []. AT&T charged the NSA for access to their network. The linked article is from 2007 and suggests that the only way for a backbone provider to make money is to sell access to the government. This is not new information for anyone who has been watching.

    • by ShaunC ( 203807 )

      what did AT&T get out of this?

      Millions of dollars at the very least (see: RSA). Perhaps billions, considering the vast scale.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I worked as a switch technician at several MCI Points Of Presence during the 80's/90's - this kind of thing was going on at several Central Offices - generally all the main POPs for a metro area have a locked "wiretap room" that only people with badges and guns can get into and out of - it was verboten for use CO techs to enter, see, or even mention these rooms even exist, but they do. Israel provided much of the tech for the FBI and other agencies in the COs. There are also many COG/COOP sites with direc

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Re peering and use of US private sector.
      Cheap international standards that are US friendly in terms of new equipment costs and international peering costs via, to and from the USA.
      Subsidized funding builds an international reputation that ensured no other nation gets ideas about expensive direct links or distant interconnects of their own?
      The EU or South American call or data will pass via the US and then finds is final cheap destination.
      That also cuts down on the risk of power, space, cooling, band
  • by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @03:36PM (#50323301)

    Which pretty much makes it explicit that when the NSA comes to your CEO, they're rude, obnoxious and demanding. And you can't say no.

    • by Raenex ( 947668 )

      "Look, I know I'm letting you fuck my wife while I watch and rummage around my stuff, but could you please be polite about it? This is a partnership here."

      • by jodido ( 1052890 )
        The NSA wasn't "fucking the wife" and it really is a partnership. AT&T is a loyal corporate citizen and was doing its loyal patriotic duty. If you were AT&T, wouldn't you? Isn't the NSA and the rest of the state police apparatus there to protect AT&T and its class?
        • by cr0nj0b ( 20813 )

          jodido, I'm sure you realize this, so this is more for other people.
          The NSA and its predecessors have long worked with telecommunications companies who willingly hand over data without warrants.

          here is a starting point as an overview...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "One document reminds NSA officials to be polite"

      Which pretty much makes it explicit that when the NSA comes to your CEO, they're rude, obnoxious and demanding. And you can't say no.

      "Did you really think we want those laws observed?" said Dr. Ferris. "We want them to be broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against... We're after power and we mean it... There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nat

  • Isn't this a little old by this point? I mean, we've known that the NSA taps off every CO at the optical level for about as long as the timeframe you're suggesting... if you're talking phones, even longer.
  • by Forever Wondering ( 2506940 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @04:30PM (#50323515)

    Seems to me that datacaps facilitate the surveillance.

    The published/public reasons for datacaps are to "reduce network congestion" and that various telcos would like to charge [gouge] their customers more money.

    Many articles have debunked the "network congestion" argument. But, telcos would like to charge higher prices so they continue to float the myth ad naseum. It's also a great cover.

    Maybe the only "congestion" is that while it would be relatively easy/inexpensive to build out networks to handle it [routers, etc.], it would be prohibitively more expensive to add the requisite amount of surveillance equipment to handle the load [if they could]. Otherwise, the "secret room" inside a telco's CO would have to become the "secret floor" and eventually the "secret building".

    Charging customers higher prices for congestion is a misnomer. But, instead of using this capital [or any capital for that matter] to build out networks to accommodate legitimate internet traffic increases, like any reasonably/responsibly managed company, diverting it to a telco's "black budget" would be harder to justify [even internally] to an auditor.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      The "secret room" idea is just getting access for a splitter in any nation, part of the USA. More splitters per room is not a big problem with optical.
      A location is vital, where data enters, exits the USA, 5 eye nations and other sites. Leverage, partnership.
      The filtering is done in other parts of the world as needed, realtime or over time with all the mirrored data ie collect it all.
      Scale does not seem to be a problem for most advanced nations anymore. Australia, NZ can get all of Asia without US or
  • by Sarusa ( 104047 ) on Saturday August 15, 2015 @04:42PM (#50323565)

    We already knew from previous leaks that AT&T was the telecom most eagerly cooperative with the NSA.

    What this underscores is just how eager they were, taking NSA dicks in all holes and begging for more, *splort*ing packets all over their faces. HLARGHARLARGH.

    All completely illegal and unconstitutional, thanks Dubya for getting this rolling and thanks Obama for covering their asses after the rock was turned over.

  • An interesting long term review [] of NSG/GCHQ snooping - by Duncan Campbell.

  • We have the workorders for that installation of this program. This is not news. The documents garnishing further proof is "of interest" at best. Slashdot going down hill like the Roman Empire and the American Hegemony.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Been there and still there since 2007. Redundant splitters one hop up from the telco border router from ATT's mail sub-contracted to Yahoo. 55 Marietta Suite 500 Atlanta, GA 30303

    NSA local listening post is right next door to a large ATT building right off of I-85.

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