The New York Times broke some disturbing news this weekend – telecom giant AT&T is a willing partner with the US National Security Agency (NSA), and has been helping the NSA spy on the Internet traffic of a massive number of AT&T users.
The article details the company’s special relationship with the NSA, which was described as a “cooperation.” This partnership has been highly funded by the NSA over the past 10 years and, according to the article, AT&T provided the NSA with access to billions of emails that were sent over their network in the United States:
“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 provided technical assistance in carrying out a secret court order permitting the wiretapping of all Internet communications at the United Nations headquarters, a customer of AT&T.”
The partnership includes many classified activities, surveillance equipment installations at many of AT&T’s US hubs and the testing of new surveillance technology. To make matters worse, the NSA has been trying to keep the identity of their partner AT&T (and other partners in the telecom space) a secret. There has been much opposition to these spying techniques among technology companies, with many turning to encryption as a solution. But telecom providers have been more reluctant to speak up.
Shame on you, AT&T. But this really isn’t news. We know AT&T has been voluntarily cooperating with the NSA since 2007 when AT&T diverted customer Internet traffic to the NSA’s now infamous Room 641a in San Francisco. Room 641a is one of the reasons Golden Frog was founded. When we saw the news about Room 641a we filed papers with the FCC to bring this alarming activity to their attention. The FCC ignored us, so Golden Frog was founded to build online privacy and security tools to protect against this very kind of behavior.
AT&T’s continued abuse of its customers’ right to privacy only emphasizes the need for the FCC Open Internet Order to consider privacy along with preventing “fast lanes.” The Open Internet Order wants to allow consumers to “go where they want, when they want,” but what is the point if they are spied upon by their ISP at multiple points in their Internet connection in cooperation with the government?
AT&T has violated their customers’ right to privacy in a big way, and this news highlights more than ever the necessity of providing people with the tools to protect themselves online. People have a right to communicate over the Internet – without fear of the NSA looking over their shoulders. We need more encryption and must fight against encryption backdoors so service providers such as AT&T cannot abuse our privacy without our knowledge.
We’ll be watching this development closely and are interested to see how AT&T – and their customers – will respond.