CIA pays AT&T $10 million a year for phone data: report

The Central Intelligence Agency has been paying communications giant $10 million annually for access to the company’s massive database of telephone records, which contains international and domestic calls, government sources said.

The business deal is voluntary, The New York Times reported. Neither subpoena nor court order compels the company to participate, the unnamed government officials said in the report.

How it reportedly works: The CIA gives AT&T phone numbers of suspected terrorists operating overseas, and the company searches its database. If a match is found, AT&T supplies the CIA with the records, The New York Times reported. Some of the searches that start overseas may lead to records on American citizens.

The revelation gives further clues into how the U.S. conducts surveillance operations, through the National Security Agency and other spy agencies. By law, the CIA cannot spy on Americans on U.S. soil. And The New York Times said the majority of the numbers AT&T has processed for the intelligence agency involve overseas sources only — foreign-to-foreign calls.

Moreover, if Americans are discovered to be involved, AT&T doesn’t disclose their names, The New York Times reported. Still, nothing precludes the Federal Bureau of Investigation from issuing a subpoena to AT&T to release information that’s kept private from the CIA. AT&T, however, said the company works hard to protect Americans’ privacy.

“We value our customers’ privacy,” said Mark Siegel, an AT&T spokesman, in The New York Times. “[But] we do not comment on questions concerning national security.”

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