The government of the United States of America spies on its own people and the world, despite espousing the ‘virtues of democracy’ to everyone else. On Sunday, the New York Times (NYT) published a damning story of how the National Security Agency (NSA) maintained a decades-long partnership with telecom giant AT&T to spy on vast quantities of internet traffic passing through its networks. Although it’s no surprise that telecom companies have been working with spy agencies, these latest NSA documents, “show that the relationship with AT&T has been considered unique and especially productive”, according to the American daily.
One document reportedly described the relationship between the two as “highly collaborative”, while another praised the telecom giant’s “extreme willingness to help”. These documents were provided to the American daily by none other than former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is now wanted by the US government for treason. Snowden’s revelations about mass surveillance programmes on American and foreign soil by their largest intelligence gathering organisation, the National Security Agency, had raised numerous questions on privacy, sovereignty, trust and freedom. The NSA, according to Snowden, has <g data-gr-id="34">real time</g> access to personal information stored by major US technology companies such as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook, which form the bedrock of internet connectivity around the world. They also have the ability to conduct a mass interception of data from global telecommunication networks. Thankfully, since the Snowden revelations, certain Silicon Valley companies have expressed deep resentment at the NSA’s actions and have rolled out new encryption to thwart them.
According to these recent documents, however, there is a mountain of evidence that points to AT&T as the program’s partner to one of NSA’s longest surveillance programmes. Several former intelligence officials, according to NYT, have confirmed this fact. It is clear that American intelligence agencies store data from half a billion telephone calls, emails and text messages in Germany every month. The Fairview programme, however, includes mass surveillance on ‘allied’ or ‘friendly’ states.
Under this programme, NSA partners with a US telecommunications company, whose identity is now known to us. This telecommunications company then enters into a partnership with telecom outlets on foreign soil. Subsequently, this partnership allows the US company access into that country’s telecommunication services. It is this access that allows the NSA to direct such international traffic towards its repositories. Unlike the Indian government, which made no noise against the US government’s actions, revelations of mass snooping in South America did not do America too many favours.
In a direct riposte to Barack Obama, over justifications for such snooping, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said, “The arguments that the illegal interception of information and data aims at protecting nations against terrorism cannot be sustained. Brazil, Mr President, knows how to protect itself. We reject, fight and do not harbour terrorist groups.” In probably the biggest indictment against NSA’s mass surveillance, she added, “In the absence of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion, and, therefore, no effective democracy. In the absence of the respect for sovereignty, there is no basis for the relationship among nations.” As days go by, further revelations will arise.