AT&T's compliance was crucial in helping to NSA to spy on foreign Internet traffic, according to the Times

AT&T accused of helping NSA with Internet spying

Telecoms provider AT&T has been helping the US National Security Agency conduct surveillance on Internet traffic, according to the New York Times.

Citing newly disclosed NSA documents dating from 2003 to 2013 provided by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the newspaper reported that the company had helped the spy agency in a broad range of classified activities.

AT&T reportedly gave technical assistance to the spy agency to carry out a secret court order, allowing it to wiretap all Internet communications at the headquarters of the United Nations, which is one of the firm's customers.

The Times reported that AT&T installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its US Internet hubs, far more than competitor Verizon Communications and AT&T engineers also were the first to use new surveillance technologies invented by the NSA.

The documents describe how a good working relationship with AT&T's enabled the agency to conduct surveillance of international and foreign-to-foreign Internet communications that passed through network hubs in the US under various legal rules.

Large amounts of the world's Internet communications pass across US cables and the company gave access to contents of transiting email traffic years before Verizon started in March 2013, the Times reported.

"This is a partnership, not a contractual relationship," according to one NSA document describing the link between the agency and the company. AT&T's "corporate relationships provide unique accesses to other telecoms and ISPs", according to another one of the NSA documents.

In 2011 the telecoms giant began to provide the NSA more than 1.1 billion domestic cellphone calling records daily after "a push to get this flow operational prior to the 10th anniversary of 9/11", the Times reported.

AT&T spokesman Brad Burns told Reuters by email: "We do not voluntarily provide information to any investigating authorities other than if a person's life is in danger and time is of the essence.

"For example, in a kidnapping situation we could provide help tracking down called numbers to assist law enforcement."

Burns added that AT&T would have nothing further to say on the report.

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