The involvement of the CIA marks a change from a series of reports since June this year

The CIA was said to have paid $10 million a year to telecom giant AT&T under a voluntary contract that required the company to supply telephone records of calls made abroad and in some cases in the U.S.

According to a report by The New York Times quoting unnamed government officials, the protocol followed was for the CIA to provide phone numbers of overseas terror suspects to AT&T, after which the company would search its database and supply call records “that may help identify foreign associates.”

This involvement of the CIA in counterterrorism spying marks a change from a series of reports since June this year, based on exposés provided by fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden, who gave newspapers such as The Guardian, The Washington Post, and Der Spiegel confidential information about global surveillance of Internet and phone communications conducted by the National Security Agency.

Some of these reports noted that the NSA paid “hundreds of millions of dollars a year to U.S. companies for clandestine access to their communications networks, filtering vast traffic flows for foreign targets in a process that also sweeps in large volumes of American telephone calls, e-mails and instant messages.”

The disclosures this week regarding the CIA’s role in similarly paying off telecom majors to hand over users’ telephone records suggest a deeper voluntary participation by these companies than was initially suggested.

While officials from some tech companies such as Google and Yahoo made statements distancing themselves from allegations that they had compromised user privacy, the CIA’s ties to AT&T suggested that many of the spying programmes deployed were “regulated by an inconsistent patchwork of legal standards, procedures and oversight.”

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