Selling out to the CIA

Telecoms operators worldwide are looking for new ways of generating revenue. Others are grappling with customer concerns over privacy, after the NSA revelations exposed some with complicity in providing customer data, freely or otherwise. It would appear that AT&T has managed to combine the two and generate an extra $10 million for the coffers. It may not seem a lot compared to its gross revenues but all indications are that it is a growing market.

You see, the New York Times recently reported that the CIA pays AT&T $10 million a year for phone records of customers. But this is not the normal arrangement where a CSP is compelled to supply information via the usual court orders or subpoenas; it’s a voluntary, private deal. (Those two words seem terribly out of place when discussing the CIA.)

The report states that the CIA supplies phone numbers of overseas terrorism suspects, and AT&T provides records of calls that may help identify foreign associates. We are talking about suspects here so that could be a pretty broad spectrum. And who defines them as terrorists?  It seems anybody that disagrees with any US law enforcement agency is now classed as a suspected terrorist.

It would also be foolish to confuse the CIA with the NSA. After all, how many people would use AT&T to call the German Chancellor, Mrs Merkel, or any other European head of state for that matter?

Sadly, for customers it highlights that they can no longer trust their CSP with their private data. Being forced to hand it over and freely selling it are two very different activities and the public will spot the difference. On the other hand, many will have just resigned themselves to the fact that there is no longer any sanctity in personal information and life will go on anyway.

There is a very thin line between fighting terrorism and wholesale manipulation and exploitation of private information. AT&T may have been exposed but it is almost certain that others are also profiting from data trafficking.

The point here is that if no-one stops this activity – and customers get so blasé they don’t care any more – then every CSP will follow suit with a new revenue source that will need to be billed. And there lies the reason we are covering the story!

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Tony Poulos
About Tony Poulos 48 Articles
Tony is a freelance writer, regular speaker, MC and chairman for the telecoms and digital services industries worldwide. He has founded and managed software and services companies, been contributing Analyst for IDC, a freelance writer and is a columnist and video anchor for Telecom Asia. In June 2011, Tony was recognized as one of the 25 most influential people in telecom software worldwide.

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