AT&T was the NSA’s best customer

It turns out that AT&T Inc. is the most NSA friendly communications company in the U.S. According to documents leaked by Whistleblower Edward Snowden, the communications giant worked closely with the NSA.

AT&T’s relationship with the spy agency may have even superseded the other communications companies involvement, according to the New York Times they started turning over records within days of the September 11 attacks. AT&T’s spokesman Fletcher Cook says that the company also follows the letter of the law when turning over documents. However, it appears that they were able to use certain legal loophole to deliver some data in the absence of court orders.

This includes turning over an incredible amount of foreign-to-foreign emails, up to 60 million a day at the program’s height of operations. They also provided records of 1.1 billion phone calls a day by 2011. The internet was monitored as well, with 17 of their major U.S. hubs having internet surveillance equipment installed.

“This is a partnership, not a contractual relationship,” one document reminds N.S.A. officials to be polite when visiting AT&T facilities.

Another piece of evidence showing the unique collaboration between the two is the NSA’s top-secret budget records that show AT&T was receiving twice the amount of funding of other communications agencies.

With the recent scrutiny of the NSA’s spying efforts, and the expiration of the Patriot Act, AT&T may need to rethink their policy moving forward. As the NSA is also revamping their record collection policy, it is unclear if this type of program is still in effect, or will be drastically different in the future.

“They might get blow-back. This story is one of those triggers that will let them evaluate if they want to continue this program and what extent they want to continue,” Roger Entner, analyst at Recon Analytics LLC said.

No one expects AT&T to suffer any long-term financial risk because of the news, but it is possible their reputation may take a hit. The New York Times report comes at a time when AT&T should be celebrating their acquisition of DirecTV which makes them the largest pay-TV company in America.

For his part in the release of documents, Edward Snowden is still a refugee in Russia. The U.S. is still seeking his extradition so they can try him for treason.

[Bloomberg][New York Times][RT]