C.I.A. Pays AT&T for Big Data

Friday, November 08, 2013

at&t logo on window (Karly Domb Sadof/WNYC)

If you visit AT&T’s website, click on their privacy policy and scroll down to the second bullet—there you'll find what they deem their “privacy commitments." It reads:

“We will not sell your personal information to anyone, for any purpose. Period.”

Well, looks like the telecom giant may not be as committed to that promise as they say. Our partner The New York Times has reported that AT&T is in fact selling personal information—to the C.I.A.—to the tune of more than $10 million a year.

The deal keeps AT&T on the hook to provide records of calls made internationally, and the program is entirely voluntary. No subpoenas or court orders have been involved. The reasoning is to assist with overseas counterterrorism investigations.

We asked AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel about the matter, and he replied:

“In all cases, whenever any governmental entity anywhere seeks information from us, we ensure that the request and our response are completely lawful and proper. We ensure that we maintain customer information in compliance with the laws of the United States and other countries where information may be maintained. Like all telecom providers, we routinely charge governments for producing the information provided. We do not comment on questions concerning national security.”

Joining The Takeaway to weigh in is Susan Crawford, a professor at Cardozo Law School and the author of “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age.”


Susan Crawford


T.J. Raphael

Comments [9]

art525 from Park Slope

OK John from Austin call me old fashioned but I don't think humor should come at someone else's expense. SAOmeone who I might add has nothing to do with any possible bad behavior. And then too there is the fact that it wasn't funny or clever or did it somehow nail the issue. It certainly was not Jon Stewart. . Just cheap.

Nov. 09 2013 09:51 AM

When you called AT&T why did you not ask to speak to a supervisor?
The folks that answer the phone are not in a position to answer such questions. If you really wanted to know the answer to the question you would have ask for a higher power. Better yet went through the PR department.

My reaction is not as harsh as Art525. This was not the level of journalism expected from this show.

Nov. 08 2013 09:01 PM
John from Austin, Texas

I find it disappointing that no one has a sense of humor anymore. I don't think the host was "picking" on the AT&T rep. The representative responded the way she was told respond to that type of inquiry. In fact, I'm sure this is mild compared to the other things she has to deal with during a normal day at the office. I'm sure she's well versed in dealing with angry customers, of which John clearly was not. Now, if the host took up a little of her time for a little humor on his show, so be it. This country needs a little of that. These are serious times, and serious issues. If we don't take a little time for humor, we are going to implode. Lighten up, people. I think John Hockenberry is insightful and I learn a great deal from his show every day. His humor helps digest what are often depressing facts about the world we live in today.

Nov. 08 2013 05:48 PM
bentley from Philadelphia

It was very disappointing that the host decided to pick on the call center rep who is paid very little money and has no power to change company policy. Who thought is was a good idea to first conduct the interview and then after listening to it then decided it was a a good idea to put it on the air?

Nov. 08 2013 02:31 PM
Alan C. from Ft Lauderdale, FL

I have to agree that John was a total jerk during his call to the AT&T representative. He owes this woman a sincere apology. Harassing phone pranks are well below the dignity of this program. Shabby. Disappointing.

Nov. 08 2013 12:44 PM
Vanessa from St. Louis

As a former Customer Service Representative for AT&T, I was appalled by the host calling in just to harass a low-level employee. That representative certainly has no knowledge of the CIA program in question. All the host accomplished is making the representative's call stats go down which very likely had a negative impact on her daily review by her manager and possibly got her in trouble. Way to go.

Nov. 08 2013 12:18 PM
Maria D. from Boston

I laughed my head off when I heard you call the ATT rep about getting a cut of the CIA payoff. Cell phone companies own us consumers these days, yet disrespect us to the extent that personal info is sold to others. Of course the poor service rep isn't going to be able to comment on a corporate policy set by the higher ups because she herself is just a plebe.

Nov. 08 2013 11:32 AM
Casey C. Adams

I just listened to this piece, and while I found it intriguing (and, naturally, disturbing that the company would be involved in such a practice), I was really disappointed by the host's decision to take such a big question up with a representative in the call center, who was clearly bewildered and upset by the conversation. Reasonable humans understand that a company of this size doesn't invite their call center reps to the table for government contract discussions, right?

If the story was eventually going to get around to where it should have gone in the first place - requesting a comment from a company spokesperson - what on earth was the point of harassing this poor girl who is working what is already a thankless job and probably just trying to get by like the rest of us, and then airing the conversation? It added nothing to the story but time.

That was not investigative journalism, nor was it amusing or clever.

Nov. 08 2013 09:49 AM
art525 from Park Slope

This piece that John Hockenberry just did where he called AT&T was the worst case of showboating. Really pretty offensive. I guess he thinks it's a clever way to make his point but to call up an AT&T phone representative who is not involved in such accused behavior is just a flashy and shallow act. He knows that that is not a productive way of investigating what may be an important issue. This is the kind of schtick I would expect more from a right wing talking head. Hockenberry tries much too hard to be cool and doesn't succeed. I have reached the point where I am really pretty tired of this show. Good bye.

Nov. 08 2013 09:18 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.