Surveillance cameras seem to be popping up everywhere these days. People use them to protect their homes. Police departments across the U.S. use them to spot crimes 24/7.
Even the U.S. military has used surveillance cameras to keep an eye on certain bases and embassies. This can be a good way to keep us safe, but it also could lead to a loss of privacy. In fact, we told you last year that the Chinese government may have found a way to use surveillance cameras against you. (PssT! Scroll to the end of this article to listen to Kim's free podcast dealing with the Chinese government spying on you.)
You would probably expect that type of shady activity from the Chinese government, but not from our own. Well, it turns out that the U.S. government is spying on American and foreign citizens and AT&T is helping them do it.
Is Big Brother watching you?
According to "The Intercept," Americans and foreign citizens are being spied on by the National Security Agency (NSA) with a hand from AT&T. That's because the NSA is using AT&T internet data processing centers located across the U.S. to do the spying.
Eight facilities across the U.S. have been identified as being used by the NSA to keep tabs on people. It's allegedly monitoring internet users' emails, internet browsing, and social media posts.
The centers in question are known as "peering" facilities that process data from both AT&T customers along with customers of other internet providers. Telecom customers from foreign countries are also being watched including India, Italy, Germany and Sweden.
The eight secret spy hubs are located in:
- Los Angeles
- New York
- San Francisco
- Washington, DC
Co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice told "The Intercept," "It's eye-opening and ominous the extent to which this is happening right here on American soil. It puts a face on surveillance that we could never think of before in terms of actual buildings and actual facilities in our own cities."
A former AT&T technician said that by tapping into wires in these peering facilities, the NSA is able to not only collect AT&T's data but all the data that are interchanged between AT&T's network and other companies. He also said that the connections are most likely carrying everybody's internet traffic at one point or another during the day, week or year.
The NSA would not comment on the situation. However, AT&T told "The Intercept" that it's required by law to provide authorities with information to certain extents.
AT&T has helped the government spy on you before
This isn't the first time that the telecom giant has been accused of helping the U.S. government spy on its people.
AT&T has a secret program called Project Hemisphere that searches through trillions of phone call records. It then analyzes cell data to find where the person making the call is located, along with the person on the other end of the call's location and possibly details of the call.
When Hemisphere was reported by The New York Times in 2013, it was labeled as a partnership between AT&T and the U.S. government. At the time, Justice Department officials claimed the program was essential as a counter-narcotics tool.
However, Hemisphere was used for much more than the war on drugs. It was reportedly also used to investigate everything from Medicaid fraud to homicides.
"The Daily Beast" says Hemisphere isn't a partnership, instead it is a product that was developed by AT&T. It was then sold to the U.S. government for millions of taxpayer dollars.
AT&T's own documents say that no warrant is needed to access Hemisphere's data. Law enforcement's only requirement in using the data is to not disclose Hemisphere in a publicized investigation.
All telecommunication companies are obligated by law to hand over these types of records from its database. What sets AT&T apart from other companies is the amount of records it has.
AT&T owns over 75 percent of U.S. landline switches and has the second largest share of cell towers and wireless infrastructure. It keeps cell tower data going all the way back to 2008. Whereas Verizon only keeps those records for one year and Sprint keeps them for 18 months.
AT&T keeps details of every phone call, text, or other communication that has been made on its infrastructure dating back to the late 1980s. The New York Times says this database has trillions of records and is larger than any phone record database collected by the NSA under the Patriot Act. AT&T is allegedly being paid as much as $1 million a year by different police departments for access to Hemisphere.
Is the Chinese government spying on you? Listen to this free Komando on Demand podcast to find out
Is it protection or paranoia? The head of the FBI has warned that the Chinese government may be spying on U.S. citizens who use smartphones made by Huawei or ZTE. Both makers deny the surveillance, but the idea of cyber snooping comes with precedence.
How to avoid being tracked online
Big data is big business nowadays, and your browsing and search habits get collected, cataloged, analyzed and fed through algorithms that are designed to monetize your every move. But sometimes, all this stalking and creeping and tracking and snooping can feel a little bit too much. It certainly feels like a blatant invasion of privacy.