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United States Privacy

CIA Pays AT&T Millions To Voluntarily Provide Call Data 107

Posted by samzenpus
from the checking-numbers dept.
First time accepted submitter binarstu writes "The New York Times reports that 'The C.I.A. is paying AT&T more than $10 million a year to assist with overseas counterterrorism investigations by exploiting the company's vast database of phone records, which includes Americans' international calls, according to government officials. The cooperation is conducted under a voluntary contract, not under subpoenas or court orders compelling the company to participate, according to the officials.'"
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CIA Pays AT&T Millions To Voluntarily Provide Call Data

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  • ATT (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    American Tattle Tale
    • Re:ATT (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bhagwad (1426855) on Friday November 08, 2013 @07:05AM (#45366489) Homepage

      And yet some people I've spoken to would rather trust AT&T than a company like Google when it comes to their choice of Internet Service Provider. I'm always amused by these guys.

      "Google is evil! How can you even think of taking Internet service from them? AT&T? Oh sure! Sign me up!"

      Apparently they believe that just because Google is an ad company they'll sell your personal information for cash. Well, no they won't because that's not how it works and they'd be pretty stupid to do that since their entire business model is based on trust. And second...well apparently AT&T is straight up selling data for money. Surprise surprise!

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The NSA doesn't have to buy the data from Google... Do you think the hundreds of employees they share and the fact that most of their biggest data centres are right beside each other is simply a coincidence?

        • I don't remember the last time I used google to make a phone call...
      • Re:ATT (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Friday November 08, 2013 @07:11AM (#45366525)

        Well, no they won't because that's not how it works

        That's not how it works today while Google is rolling in the dough. When they hit hard times, that could easily change, but all the data they've collected over the last decade will still be right there, tempting management to sell it for a quick buck.

        • by houghi (78078)

          That's not how it works today while Google is rolling in the doughAnd you believe them why? If it were happening there are two good reasons NOT to admit to it.
          1) It would be bad for business
          2) It would be bad breaking the NDA

          And everybody has a price. That price is not always money.

          And perhaps it is not even needed, because for now they have other ways of getting that data.

          • 1) It would be bad for business

            That is a blanket unsupported assertion, particularly given the context of google's current business model starting to fail, perhaps as a result of the public's move to more decentralized communications (p2p messaging, etc) that aren't so ammendable to google's "man in the middle" services.

            2) It would be bad breaking the NDA

            What NDA? Google didn't sign any contracts. You agreed to a click-through contract that includes terms that permit Google to change the terms whenever and however they see fit.

        • all the data they've collected over the last decade will still be right there, tempting management to sell it for a quick buck.

          Economics nerd here ... but as long as there are a few people in the world with some foresight, google will make more money selling those assets to them. That's why investment works reasonably well under capitalism; while all people are selfish, and many are shortsighted, as long as there are some that want to save money for retirement or whatever, you can make more money through ar

      • by Anonymous Coward

        And yet some people I've spoken to would rather trust AT&T than a company like Google when it comes to their choice of Internet Service Provider. I'm always amused by these guys. "Google is evil! How can you even think of taking Internet service from them? AT&T? Oh sure! Sign me up!"

        Yeah, he's my neighbor: S . Man - he prefers to be called "Straw".

      • Re:ATT (Score:5, Informative)

        by Virtucon (127420) on Friday November 08, 2013 @07:33AM (#45366589)

        Agreed. It's sad that our movements, our preferences and our communications are subject to the whims of some corporate fat cat who wants to find new ways of maximizing shareholder value. They'll do anything with the data you entrust to them and all it takes is a policy shift because the terms of service you agreed to gives them the right to do this, even without a judge ordering them to turn the data over. Right now there's only a few voices out there who are yelling loudly about this in Congress and we need to get a piece of comprehensive legislation in place that genuinely protects our privacy. Unfortunately I don't see the current administration doing anything about it because they're too busy sniffing our in-boxes. Besides I'm still waiting for Guantanamo Bay to close.

        Since the TFA is talking about overseas operations, it's interesting to look at their policies/TOS in the US since this call data can get you wrapped up in some government investigation because you have a friends in "those foreign places, not in 'Merica."

        AT&T has multiple privacy policies but this one [att.com] is of particular interest.

        • We will protect your privacy and keep your personal information safe. We use encryption and other security safeguards to protect customer data.
        • We will not sell your personal information to anyone, for any purpose. Period.

        It says safe, not confidential but the second line seems to be in conflict however again, this is "overseas" stuff right? So they'll sell it to the feds because they also state...

        Assist in the prevention and investigation of illegal activities and violations of our Terms of Service or Acceptable Use Policies.

        So they've given themselves a moral way out because if you're doing naughty things or harming their network, they'll do whatever they want to keep their good name intact.

        • by HiThere (15173)

          Sorry, but that last line should read:
          So they've given themselves a moral way out because if you're accused of doing naughty things or harming their network, they'll do whatever they want to keep their good name intact.

          • by Virtucon (127420)

            {accused of | suspected of | know somebody | were once affiliated with somebody } ;-)

      • Re:ATT (Score:5, Interesting)

        by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Friday November 08, 2013 @08:31AM (#45366851)

        And all along I'd been thinking they were doing it all for free.

        Glad to see my tax dollars are supporting it!

        • Your tax dollars are supporting criminal investigations.

          And it takes time to compile the data. Even a straight data query without going to backup requires some dedicated time. I don't expect companies to volunteer this time.

          The issue is volume of requests. Say the volume is too high if you want, but each company has millions of customers generating lots of data.

          Get congress to make fewer things illegal, that's a far easier line to argue.

          • by cusco (717999)

            The FBI and local/state police do criminal investigations. The NSA and CIA do not, and almost without exception refuse to share data with other non-intel agencies, even when those agencies are investigating terrorism.

      • by jamiesan (715069)
        Not to mention that AT&T's logo looks like the Death Star.
    • by FriendlyLurker (50431) on Friday November 08, 2013 @07:13AM (#45366533)
      Does the CIA still raise that money by selling drugs into the US like it was caught doing previously [wikipedia.org], or do they just sell weapons on the black market [infoplease.com] to "Axis of evil" type countries. Such a credible and upstanding extra-govermentmtal organization, a shining beacon for protecting democracy... *sigh*.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday November 08, 2013 @06:35AM (#45366379) Journal
    I had no idea AT&T was such a cheap date. I would have assumed that the 10 million might cover the fee for transferring all those heavy packets through the tubes to NSA HQ, with the data and analysis itself ringing in at at least a factor of ten greater.

    Also, given that AT&T has slightly over 100 million wireless customers, never mind all the Ma Bell copper customers, apparently the volume discounts on customer information are pretty good...
    • Like a first date, AT&T fell in love with "counterterrorism investigations", such a clean and respectable sounding type. Turns out it is little more than organizing illegal kidnappings [opensociet...ations.org], torture, assassinations - outside the rule of law [ccrjustice.org], anyones law, anywhere... and forget the constitution.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      I had no idea AT&T was such a cheap date. I would have assumed that the 10 million might cover the fee for transferring all those heavy packets through the tubes to NSA HQ, with the data and analysis itself ringing in at at least a factor of ten greater.

      Nah. The ten million covers the pipes, and the data and analysis is already being done by AT&T for their own purposes, and simply being forwarded on to the feds.

      • True enough, they even built their own domain specific C extension [berkeley.edu] for the purpose of evaluating very large datasets (it's called 'Hancock' if you want to go googling yourself).

        However, if I've learned anything about the world from software, it's that the fact that the work has already been done is absolutely no obstacle to charging each customer for doing the work...
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          However, if I've learned anything about the world from software, it's that the fact that the work has already been done is absolutely no obstacle to charging each customer for doing the work...

          They were made an offer they could not refuse. Let us not forget the lesson of Qwest [wikipedia.org].

    • I had no idea AT&T was such a cheap date.

      It's $10M plus "what happened to Joseph Nacchio won't happen to you". Remember, these guys have all the phone calls (at least metadata, probably more) and all the emails of all the execs running these corporations. I'm sure they all lead lily-white lives, right?

      After all the Snowden briefings, who will be surprised to learn that these TLA's have groups that specializes in collecting "strategic data" on people those TLA's need to get certain behavior from?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    AT&T is a shameless hooker?

    Bending over for any Government agency who pays out?

    Giving up the goods on its clientele for a "fat" sum of cash... (snitch? traitor? turncoat? oh wait, its AT&T, its all about the money, fuck anything and everything else)...

    CAP: critter

    • AT&T is a shameless hooker?

      Bending over for any Government agency who pays out?

      Yes.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        Think of the $10 million as a reach-around, and AT&T as a consenting participant.

        That's closer to what's happening.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 08, 2013 @06:40AM (#45366405)

    Contracts with the government to supply telecommunications without needing to worry about competition?

    Free date nights with top rung escorts when they're in town for meetings?

    Free big-data analytics?

    $10 million for the bottom line of a company like AT&T is chicken feed. What's really going on here?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 08, 2013 @06:51AM (#45366435)

      They get to coninue doing business in the U.S.

    • Antitrust violations are ignored, while they continue to be cooperative. Same goes for most big companies, play ball or be investigated...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They may be breaking many laws, but they don't care. They have legal immunity as long as they are doing the NSA's bidding, so nobody in AT & T will ever question the legality of what they do.

      Who cares what laws Congress writes if you are immune from them?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        They may be breaking many laws

        It's the exact opposite problem. They're not breaking laws here because no such law exists. It should, but it doesn't.

        • Last i checked, the 4th is still in effect. Electronic comms are CLEARLY to be considered 'papers and effects'. Anyone who disagrees is a traitor.
      • by gl4ss (559668)

        oh if they only had written the laws.

        in couple of next years there's going to be bigger and bigger scandals abut monetization of databases because it's 100% legal in usa.

        credit check companies selling information to credit card fraudsters is just he beginning.

    • by msauve (701917)
      What do they get in return? They can expect a class action suit. Here's part of their explicit Privacy Policy:

      What is Personal Information? Information that identifies or reasonably can be used to identify you...We don't sell your Personal Information to anyone for any purpose. Period.

      Now, the article does say "it does not disclose the identity of the Americans and 'masks' several digits of their phone numbers," but admits "the agency can refer such masked numbers to the F.B.I., which can issue an administr

    • by Xacid (560407)

      I've actually seen Verizon in much higher usage in that realm than AT&T. I'm sure there's a similar arrangement with them.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Big international trade deals ensuring a constant flow of peering via the USA. i.e. cash, size, global standing, ability to set global standards 'first' or keep old tech for a bit longer and then upgrade at will.
      All that well lit optical not providing profits to local interconnects - been routed all the way to the USA and back thats the 'gift' that keep on giving.
    • Set up some system to provide the call data, provide the relatively low cost infastructure to do it, and you're rolling in $10m/year?

      Companies don't make money with billion dollar checks, its incremental. If their infastructure and support for this is $2m/year and you have to staff 8 people for it, that's still a massive profit margin.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      RE What's really going on here? The millions would pay for cleared support never to talk to a boss, contractor or staff i.e. trusted support teams to be on call 24/7.
    • by jhol13 (1087781)

      Information from CIA performed industrial espionage?

    • by houghi (78078)

      You have no idea how companies work. You might think that there is a group of people who look at the overall picture and then decide what they will do.
      In reality there are a multitude of people who are deciding what they will do. Each manager has his own budget and when one of them can add 10.000.000 to his budget, he will do it. The only other thing they are interested is if it makes a loss or not.
      Revenue and profit. As long as you get those two, you get a sale and that does not matter if it is 10.000.000U

    • The alternative is saying no, and fighting a very expensive lawsuit.
      Warrants cost more money than paying off ATT, so everyone just assumes it would be granted. Saves time and money for everyone.
      If they require a warrant, they can't bill for time spent, and LEA could just seize servers. So it is business continuity as well.
      Many more points to be made, including things like the current scotus opinions on whether that data is protected from warrants, and soon you see ATT made the right choice.
      Which is why I do

  • That's crazy, AT&T getting only $10mil/year? I don't believe it. The value of data is a lot higher than that. Someone is lying....

  • So the CIA pays AT&T to "voluntarily" hand over somebody else's data? That is a giant stretch of the word "voluntary". The people concerned have not been asked anything. Neither have they volunteered anything.
    • by SirGarlon (845873)

      So the CIA pays AT&T to "voluntarily" hand over somebody else's data?

      What on earth makes you think data about the customers' activity belongs to the customers? You must not have been paying attention to the telecom or computer industries for the past 15 years.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        What on earth makes you think data about the customers' activity belongs to the customers? You must not have been paying attention to the telecom or computer industries for the past 15 years.

        Technically it is still illegal for AT&T to provide this information to a third party without a court order, regardless of who "owns" it, as long as they maintain the facade of being a common carrier. But of course this is the "New Amerika" where the rule of law doesn't apply to the government or big business.

    • Re:NOT voluntary (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gstoddart (321705) on Friday November 08, 2013 @09:11AM (#45367013) Homepage

      So the CIA pays AT&T to "voluntarily" hand over somebody else's data?

      Ah, but the trick is that, as interpreted, this is actually AT&T's own data collected as part of their business.

      The logic goes that since AT&T owns the wires, and needs this information to do billing and monitor their networks, then that data actually belongs to AT&T. And since that data belongs to AT&T (so goes the theory) you don't get a vote in AT&T giving over 'their' data even if 'their' data happens to be about you.

      The people concerned have not been asked anything. Neither have they volunteered anything.

      Sure you did, you voluntarily used their system, and in the process implicitly provided them with it.

      All there in the Terms of Service, and neatly upheld by the courts.

      Welcome to the Brave New World, where if you want privacy you are free to not use the phone system, the internet, the banking system, go outside your house, or interact with people lest details of what you do becomes 'property' of a corporation who is free to voluntarily assist intelligence agencies.

      Grand, aint it?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 08, 2013 @07:25AM (#45366565)

    Sign me up, AT&T !! This exemplifies what it means to be an American corporation !!

    • by Anonymous Coward
      love,
      cold_fjord
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Seriously this is classic mafia behavior. Force them to take a bribe so you have blackmail leverage as accomplicies and their "cooperaton". The CIA has been arround far too long commiting crimes.

  • Ok. I'll bite. "Pays" ..... "Voluntarily". So that's an inducement right?

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Ok. I'll bite. "Pays" ..... "Voluntarily". So that's an inducement right?

      Think of it as an 'incentive' to do it without a subpoena, and a friendly gesture of good-will towards the national security people.

      It's patriotism, honestly.

  • America's IT companies are today's modern-day equivalent to the pre-WW2 German Industrialists. More than happy to clamp diigital handcuffs on their own customers for a few $$$, shove them into electronic cattle cars and ship them off to Information Death Camps.

  • by wvmarle (1070040) on Friday November 08, 2013 @08:31AM (#45366853)

    Is it even legal for AT&T to just hand over personal data, to anyone who asks for it? Don't you guys over in the US have privacy laws, preventing or at the very least tightly regulating this kind of data transfer?

    Otherwise, why would anyone ever bother with subpoenas and so to get such information?

    Personal data is valuable. If AT&T can freely sell it to the CIA, what's stopping them to sell to other companies, for use as marketing purposes, or maybe even for identity theft purposes?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This is what weak privacy law gets you. Not enough in the laws to make this clearly illegal.

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Is it even legal for AT&T to just hand over personal data, to anyone who asks for it?

      Terms of service, and a big proviso they will cooperate with law enforcement.

      Don't you guys over in the US have privacy laws

      And limit what corporations can do? Are you mad?

      If AT&T can freely sell it to the CIA, what's stopping them to sell to other companies, for use as marketing purposes, or maybe even for identity theft purposes?

      What's to say they don't?

    • Is it even legal for AT&T to just hand over personal data, to anyone who asks for it? Don't you guys over in the US have privacy laws, preventing or at the very least tightly regulating this kind of data transfer?

      I believe the courts just ruled that it's not your personal data, it's the company's data. Which is complete bullshit in my opinion.

  • by rosencreuz (1393933) on Friday November 08, 2013 @08:40AM (#45366879)
    You pay someone to provide you data voluntarily -> you buy data
    • Overheard at a highway vehicle stop, "Would you mind if we search your vehicle?" Sure, you have the right to reply, "I decline to acquiesce to your request." But then, what are you trying to hide?
  • US corporations gather and deal with private data of all people that they can gather data of. US government is hell bound on getting its hands on all private data of all people. Somehow I do not see an element of news or surprise here especially as gov everywhere are outsourcing stuff every day. They buy private data from a telecom operator - really? I would have been surprised if that was not the case of if people demonstrated en masse against this disregard for laws and right to privacy.

    We live in a new

  • Surely if you volunteer something something, by definition you're not getting paid for it
    • "Voluntarily" is not the same as "volunteered". If they had volunteered the data, that would mean that they weren't getting paid for it. Turning it over voluntarily just means that they weren't coerced (e.g. with a subpoena or search warrant).

  • there is no accountability for the government, the US Govt and its three letter bureaucracies degenerate in to gangs of criminals, you can bet they milked that information for all its worth, i bet valuable data went to their criminal friends on wallstreet, the US Govt has degenerated in to a kleptocratic gang of fascists that are liars, thieves and murderers. and they know they can get away with it because there is no accountability
    • by kilfarsnar (561956) on Friday November 08, 2013 @10:44AM (#45367797)

      there is no accountability for the government, the US Govt and its three letter bureaucracies degenerate in to gangs of criminals, you can bet they milked that information for all its worth, i bet valuable data went to their criminal friends on wallstreet, the US Govt has degenerated in to a kleptocratic gang of fascists that are liars, thieves and murderers. and they know they can get away with it because there is no accountability

      This is one more step in the breakdown of our society. When the average person sees that powerful people are not subject to the law, they start to wonder why they themselves should be subject to the law. When they see people lying, cheating and stealing to get ahead, and it working, they conclude that only chumps play by the rules. When they perceive that there is one set of rules for the rich and powerful, and another for everyone else, they lose respect for the system.

      These attitudes are a cancer on our society. When trust and respect break down, all that is left to order society is force. When people can't trust the authorities, they become an adversary. This won't end well.

      • This is one more step in the breakdown of our society. When the average person sees that powerful people are not subject to the law, they start to wonder why they themselves should be subject to the law.

        These are the same people who have been convinced that universal health care is a "communist" plot. "Better dead than Red." Wish granted. There is no hope when the citizens vote for their own slavery, hell, they insist on it.

  • "The New York Times reports that 'The C.I.A. is paying AT&T more than $10 million a year to assist with overseas counterterrorism investigations

    Because Angela Merkel is really suspected of being in Al Qaeda? The U.S. does this because

    1) We like being imperialistic fucks
    2) Because we can
    3) Corporate espionage
    4) Skirts the 4th amendment - see DEA and fusion centers

    Actual terrorists, they can't catch even when given point-blank warnings from foreign governments or even their own officials. See: 911 and t

  • by Alomex (148003) on Friday November 08, 2013 @02:16PM (#45370421) Homepage

    Word on the street is that AT&T billings for intelligence related activities were around $2 billion a year total, between FBI NSA, CIA and other security organizations.

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