The NSA never does anything small, especially scandals, and to say the new revelations about AT&T’s partnership with them has concerning implications is to put it incredibly mildly. Rather, the company’s ubiquity in US telecommunications means that virtually all Internet traffic, and telephone data, to the tune of 1.1 billion calls daily, are going straight to the NSA.
From a 2006 whistleblower report on a “secret room” at AT&T specifically provided to give the NSA enormous access to the reports of today, the company has been one of many in bed with the surveillance state. A few such companies have tried briefly to legally challenge these calls for “partnerships” in secret courts, a process that needless to say has gone nowhere.
Though the documents on the spying schemes only go up to 2013, privacy experts note that there is no documentation or anything else suggesting anything might have changed since then, and people should assume that the NSA is spying on them more or less all the time.
The legal implications are broad in theory, but will likely be trivial in practice. The Justice Department rarely touches on its own sordid illegalities, and claims of state secrecy have largely kept the courts out of the fight. The end result is that not only is the surveillance going on with virtual impunity, but the true extent of it is not a matter of public record.
The end result is a program which in practice spies on everybody, but which no individual can actually contest in court because they can’t prove to have been individually targeted, since all the proof itself is secret.