CIA Pays AT&T Over $10 Million a Year For Access to Phone Database Archives

According to the N.Y. Times, the C.I.A. is paying AT&T more then $10 million dollars/year for special access to vast database records. Their stated goal is to assist with overseas counterterrorism efforts and screen any international calls that may connect to a threat towards terrorism.

For starters, on this I don’t necessarily disagree with the reasoning or the logistics of the agreement. I think that if terrorists live in America (which some do) and make calls to known terrorists (who live abroad) using AT&T networks, then American C.I.A. agents should be able to screen them. The problem is whether the agents in charge of screening these flagged calls and who have access to these “vast” databases (and whoever else has access to such vast databases) are monitored themselves. Do they have absolute access to the full database or can they only view information that has been automatically flagged based on suspicious activity? With our personal information becoming more and more digitized by the day, how do we protect our personal privacy? Or do we have to accept a partial loss of privacy because of our advancing technological society?

The C.I.A. claims to be acting in all of our best interests in this situation. Unfortunately, we have no way to verify this, and regardless, who gets to decide what the “best interests” of the American people if not the American people themselves (C.I.A. agents are not elected by the people)?

It’s uncomfortable when all we can do is hope whoever is doing the screening is not abusing their power.

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