New documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal that AT&T willingly participated in government spying, handing over millions of personal emails and online interactions to the government.
According to the documents, AT&T aided in government spying for over a decade, and while a number of companies also participated, AT&Ts relationship with the NSA was described as "highly collaborative," highlighting the company's willingness to help.
Documents range in date from 2003 to 2013, and the company helped in the spying on a range of different people for a range of activities. Despite the leaked documents, AT&T says that it adheres to the law.
"We do not provide information to any investigating authorities without a court order or other mandatory process other than if a person's life is in danger and time is of the essence," said AT&T in response to the report. "For example, in a kidnapping situation we could provide help tracking down called numbers to assist law enforcement."
AT&T has been identified as the carrier involved in the NSA's so-called Fairview program, a very important part of the NSA's larger spying program. In 2011, the NSA's budget for this program was $188.9 million, two times the amount for the Stormbrew program, which is the Verizon equivalent.
That same year, AT&T handed over a massive 1.1 billion domestic phone records to the NSA in an attempt to ramp up its security efforts before the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
In 2012 it was revealed that AT&T also gave technical help to the NSA to carry out a secret mission to wiretap all of the Internet traffic at the UN.
Edward Snowden, an ex-NSA contractor himself, has been releasing documents related to NSA spying of U.S. citizens since June of 2013. The documents have been related to a wide variety of programs, and have even led to accusations that the NSA has been spying on other governments, such as the German government.
Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a court order is required in order for someone in the U.S. to be a target of spying. Court orders are not, however, required for the spying of foreigners contacting Americans or other foreigners. According to telecom companies, records are "sifted" through before being handed over to the NSA in an attempt to stay within legal boundaries. These new documents, however, suggest that may not be the case.
Legislation is being passed to limit the extent to which the NSA is able to spy on U.S. citizens, however it is likely that we will see more leaks by Edward Snowden in the future.