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.