The CIA is paying AT&T more than $10 million per year to gain access to the company’s vast database of phone records, according to CNN News.
The report, which cites anonymous government officials, says that AT&T provides the CIA with call data from phone numbers the agency believes are associated with overseas terrorism suspects. The arrangement not only covers the calls of AT&T customers, but also any call that travels through its telecom infrastructure.
While most of the calls in question are made overseas, some calls to and from the U.S. are included in the data haul, according to the report. Because the CIA is not allowed to spy on Americans living in the U.S., the identities of those callers are masked. In some cases, the FBI may issue an administrative subpoena to compel AT&T to provide uncensored data.
According to the Times, AT&T’s participation in the program is voluntary and not compelled by a court order.
AT&T (T, Fortune 500) did not confirm or deny the reported deal with the CIA, but it did say that sometimes the company is paid by governments to provide information.
“In all cases, whenever any government entity anywhere seeks information from us, we ensure that the request and our response are completely lawful and proper,” said AT&T in a statement to CNNMoney. “Like all telecom providers, we routinely charge governments for producing the information provided. We do not comment on questions concerning national security.”
“As a matter of longstanding policy, the CIA does not comment on alleged intelligence sources or methods,” the CIA said in a statement. “The CIA protects the nation and upholds the privacy rights of Americans by ensuring that its intelligence collection activities are focused on acquiring foreign intelligence and counterintelligence in accordance with U.S. laws.”
The agency added: “Under Executive Order 12333, the CIA is expressly forbidden from undertaking intelligence collection activities inside the United States ‘for the purpose of acquiring information concerning the domestic activities of U.S. persons,’ and the CIA does not do so.”
The report pulls back the curtain a little further on how personal data is collected by the U.S. government — with or without the consent of the communications companies that hold it.