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Privacy proponents took note of the widely differing responses to the Snowden revelations.

“We’ve been disappointed to see how silent the telecoms have been. They’re the ones most directly implicated by the disclosures from Snowden, yet they haven’t even responded,” says Matt Simons, a director at ThoughtWorks, a software design firm that advocates for social change.

But some observers say they’re not surprised how easily the NSA gets data from the telecoms.

Critics from privacy organizations including the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation say telecom companies are unlikely to resist the government because they rely heavily on federal contracts for revenue, they need its approval for the mergers they seek, and they crave spectrum, the invisible real estate on the airwaves that the government auctions off to mobile networks.

While defense contractors are the largest federal contractors, Verizon Communications Inc., with $2.1 billion in federal contracts, ranked 14th for technology firms last year, according to an analysis of the Federal Contract Data System by Washington Technology, an online service for government contractors and tech firms. AT&T; Inc., with $1.6 billion in contracts ranked 17th, and Sprint Corp., with $601 million in contracts, ranked 38th. Internet companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft don’t make the top 100.


AP National Writer Martha Mendoza reported from San Jose, Calif.