AT&T: We don't have to disclose any NSA co-operation, not even to shareholders

AT&T: We don't have to disclose any NSA co-operation, not even to shareholders

Summary: The cellular giant says any such co-operation with the U.S. government in its mass surveillance operations would almost certainly be classified, despite concerns from shareholders.

TOPICS: Security
AT&T's Global Network Operations Center in New Jersey. (Image: AT&T)

AT&T shareholders are being shut out from receiving information on any co-operation between the cellular giant and the U.S. government, despite leaks that suggest a close relationship with the telecoms industry and federal intelligence agencies.

In a letter obtained by the Associated Press, AT&T said it wasn't required to disclose to investors and shareholders what it does with customer data.

The letter, sent on Thursday to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (which has not yet been published), AT&T said it complies with government data requests "only to the extent required by law."

It comes after a November 20 letter from activist shareholders Trillium Asset Management and New York State Common Retirement Fund, which both filed proposals ahead of an early 2014 shareholder meeting.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, among others, also joined the shareholders' efforts.

The letter also reportedly said any assistance the company offers to aid the government's foreign intelligence surveillance activities is all but certainly classified.

AT&T said the submitted proposal was "over-broad," because the six Internet companies referenced in the shareholders' letter are not allowed to publicly disclose such information in any transparency reports.

Earlier this year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said AT&T does not require a warrant for content of information, nor does it tell users about government data requests or publish a transparency report.

Scoring just one out of six stars according to the EFF's chart, Verizon scored zero. 

Verizon, which was sent the same letter as AT&T, has not publicly responded to shareholders' requests.

A Verizon spokesperson previously told ZDNet it had "no comment" in regards to whether or not the telecoms giant will join other Silicon Valley companies in challenging a secret government court ruling, which allows federal intelligence agencies from accessing massive amounts of U.S. citizen, foreign national, and Verizon customer data.

The company also declined to comment on whether it was subject to a secret court order.

However, the very first leaked document provided by former U.S. government contractor Edward Snowden revealed a court order that forced Verizon under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to vacuum up vast amounts of fiber optic cable data.

Earlier this week, The Washington Post broke the story that the NSA collects as much as 5 billion cell location records a day, based on the latest cache of Snowden leaked documents. 

In one example, previously outed program STORMBREW relies on two unnamed corporate partners, dubbed ARTIFICE and WOLFPOINT, which house the NSA's interception equipment.  

While the names of the companies were not disclosed, considering existing leaks and other previously reported disclosures from whistleblowers in the late 2000s, both AT&T and Verizon could likely top the list of prime suspects.

Topic: Security

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  • Moral Midgets

    Rep. Lantos once derided Yahoo execs as 'moral midgets' for complying with Chinese government data requests. Looks like we have a bunch of moral midgets in AT&T (and many other companies) as well -- which might explain the shrinking moral stature of our country within the international community. Sigh...
    • They are sucking up all your private information

      AT&T won't tell you that they give your data to the NSA.

      But we know what these telcos do. They Hoover up your emails, and information about what websites you're surfing. The NSA then builds a profile of who you are, and who you contact, and probably even info about what you like and what you're interested in.

      The politicians are the moral midgets. They allowed this to happen, and tried to keep it a secret from the people, until Snowden revealed it to everyone.

      But watch out if you want to start a political movement against this, as the powers that be will know who your associates are.

      And watch out if you're a journalist reporting on this or other secret government activity, as the government will be watching you to. The government will already have a copy of your address and contact list, to see who you've been contacting to get the information for your story.

      The population doesn't realize, but this is the end of democracy. You've got a duopoly political party acting as one, keeping tabs on the population more than Germany did in 1936.
      • Is new regulation necessary?

        When AT&T was broken up in 1984, it was done to increase quality of service, and also allow competition within existing buildings for "Information Services" and the internet.

        Today, some competition exists, but not as much as was originally imagined.

        The collection of private conversations, was made possible when the telecoms were deregulated; under the Telecommunications Act of 1996. When phone calls were transferred from the regulated circuit-switched network to "public" networks utilizing VoIP your long distance bill virtually went away. All this was accomplished to take advantage of the unregulated nature of "Information Services" created under the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

        Prior to this, AT&T was broken up into multiple regional companies, and SBC sold long distance service to compete against AT&T (at this time, AT&T was primarily a Long Distance Provider, based in New Jersey).

        In any situation, one of SBC's first services after the telecom liberalization act of 1996 was Long Distance services, to compete with AT&T Long Distance (Think "Friends And Family" plan-days, and AT&T 25¢/minute weekend plans).

        The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was supposed to de-centralize power and control, while also creating new marketplace opportunities, and competition. It also allowed the creation of un-regulated "Information Services"; whose prices (when adjusted for inflation), are about the same as the pre-regulated environment.

        Today, SBC sells Long Distance Service (as AT&T), home phone service (as AT&T), DSL (as AT&T), and also wireless service (as AT&T). AT&T also has credit cards, prepaid cards, and wholesale serveices also. At AT&T, the price is about the same as Verizon, but relying on "Information Services" has variable quality due to it's unregulated nature. The Original AT&T is called Verizon.

        Who knew when Bill Clinton signed the telecom act of 1996, he was just allowing a duopoly situation; where everyone pays higher rates and fees so the companies can advertise how they're somehow "better" than the other sibling.

        Perhaps it's best to break up AT&T again. The telecom environment isn't as competitive as it was in the 1990s.
        donald duck 313
      • Do you have any proof to back up that statement?

        "The population doesn't realize, but this is the end of democracy. You've got a duopoly political party acting as one, keeping tabs on the population more than Germany did in 1936."

        When one has to end on Godwin's Law, then it is usually an indication that the debater has little to argue with to begin with.
        John Zern
    • this is how the US works, only a revolution can help here:

      this is how the US works, only a revolution can help here:

      The US government murdered not just 4487 US soldiers and 179 UK soldiers through the lies about mass destruction weapons existence in Iraq.

      The US government conducts a surveillance of all the US citizens, EU officials and all people in the world to keep power. The reason can not be terrorism.

      CIA documents acknowledge its role in Iran's 1953 coup (all just for oil), documents also admits changing US public opinions.

      The US government knows that these murders, surveillances, lies are not sustainable so has prepared concentrations camps for the US citizens when a bigger crisis comes.

      You can be KILLED or you can LOSE all your rights (indefinite detention) when the USA says you are just an abettor of terrorism (just striking? who knows?), Washingtonpost: "10 reasons the U.S. is no longer the land of the free".

      The USA = murders for power, General Wesley Clark, retired 4-star U.S. Army general: "We’re going to take out 7 countries in 5 years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan & Iran.." (about ten days after 9/11: “We’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” This was on or about the 20th of September. I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq? Why?” He said, “I don’t know.” He said, “I guess they don’t know what else to do.” So I said, “Well, did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?” He said, “No, no.” He says, “There’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments.” And he said, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”)

      the sources here:
      Jiří Pavelec
    • If Randy Stephenson's daughter is RAISED this way...

      she will probably get slapped around.

      Who knows, maybe she'd like it too.
      donald duck 313
  • AT&T is staying true to its core beliefs

    Customers and shareholders are just necessary inconveniences that deserve neither truth or the slightest consideration.
    • Shareholders should be told

      It is risky for AT&T if it gets into bed with the NSA.

      If AT&T allows its customers' emails and web surfing metadata to be viewed by the NSA, customers might start leaving AT&T.

      I thought shareholders of any company (including AT&T) had to be informed of any known risks.
      • Why is everyone so willing to throw others in jail?

        Telling anyone information that they were instructed not to under national security would then have that person thrown in jail under many circumstances.

        Surprisingly, it appears that many here are willing to sacrifice others: would you relinquish your freedom if the NSA instructed you not to tell employees their emails were being monitored? Of course you would not.

        So how can force others to do that which you are not wiling to do yourself?
        John Zern
        • Hardly

          Shareholders aren't anyone. They own the company - and hence the information. If push comes to shove, they can just replace directors until one is willing to comply with their demands.

          Incidentally, you seem to have no problem with throwing others in jail, as long as it's not a US jail. Plenty of companies complying with NSA request are, in doing so, breaking the law of other countries they operate in.
    • We don't have to use AT&T

      As the pundits say "vote with your wallets". If this pisses you off, don't use AT&T, and get your friends to move to another carrier. I don't use AT&T, and this now ensures I never will.
      Ele Truk
  • It's not "sligest consideration"

    The word is "sedition"
    Tony Burzio
    • its self evident

      That the gov is behaving like a monarchy and not in the best interest of the people and is certainly not by the people. Sedition no, unconstitutional yes.
  • Money, not morality

    The reality? Telcos and other technology companies are making billions from sweetheart deals with the government, and they want that to continue. Selling out the American public is a small price to pay for corporate profits. And by the way, it gives a lot of insiders a special feeling of power to be able to "see what no one else sees" so there are lots of internal fans within the companies who are ready and willing to support the Feds.
    terry flores
  • Perhaps not

    But I think that sort of arrogance should cause the immediate dismissal of the CEO or the ouster of the Board of Directors (who are supposed to represent the stockholders) at the next shareholder's meeting if they fail to do so.

    That's probably not what is going to happen, which is a large part of what is wrong with US business (stockholders are nominally in charge, but they're almost completely passive and take little or no responsibility for what is done in their names).
    John L. Ries
    • On second thought...

      ...AT&T was probably told that it would face prosecution if it said anything else, so this is probably merely timid rather than arrogant.
      John L. Ries
    • Those directors would rather lose their jobs

      and live on the golden parachutes they already negotiated, than go to jail.
      • Then the price should be extracted....

        ...and perhaps stockholders shouldn't approve those sorts of deals in the future. But in reality, it's usually senior executives that get golden parachutes, not corporate directors, who are normally part-timers.
        John L. Ries
  • Data security

    I have always treated anything I did on the internet, or the phone, as if I were sending an old 'penny post card'. You know that it can be seen, and read, by anyone who handles it. I am sure that is why some people, and most businesses, encrypt anything that goes out electronically. NSA has been known to be a bit overzealous (understatement) in their gathering of information to protect the interests of the US. As long as the watchers are also watched, we should be able to keep them under some control.
  • How to Protect Yourself

    There are solutions for email and internet security. When the servers are located in the US or Canada they are subject to the US Patriot Act. That means that when the government (NSA, IRS, etc.) requests information on us those companies MUST comply - and all without a search warrant. This is against the US Constitution's 4th Amendment. Check out for established Swiss-based companies that ARE NOT under US jurisdiction! Let's take back our Fourth Amendment rights!!