The Edward Snowden revelations have shown that multiple American telecom companies helped the NSA with its Internet surveillance. But AT&T, it seems, happily went much further than the rest. A new investigative piece by the New York Times and ProPublica describes the company's relationship with the spy agency as "unique and especially productive." (One of the story's authors is Laura Poitras, the Oscar-winning documentary maker who worked with Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald on the original information dump.) The story cites documents in which the NSA calls the relationship with AT&T "highly collaborative" and praises the company's "extreme willingness to help." Perhaps worst of all is an NSA memo advising employees about to visit the company to be nice because "this is a partnership, not a contractual relationship."
The story says AT&T "has given the N.S.A. access, through several methods covered under different legal rules, to billions of emails as they have flowed across its domestic networks." It also provided technical expertise that allowed the NSA to conduct wiretapping at the UN headquarters. And by way of comparison, it notes that AT&T "installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its Internet hubs on American soil, far more than its similarly sized competitor, Verizon." The documents cover the period from 2003 to 2013, and it's not clear whether the relationship continues to be as tight. Asked to comment on the story, an AT&T spokesperson tells Reuters: "We do not voluntarily provide information to any investigating authorities other than if a person's life is in danger and time is of the essence." Click to read the full investigative story.