The National Security Agency program that has been collecting telephone metadata on virtually all U.S. telephone calls does not scoop up information directly from T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) or Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), according to a Wall Street Journal report, in part because foreign companies own portions of T-Mobile and Verizon.
However, the report, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, said that the NSA can still get data on 99 percent of U.S. phone traffic because nearly all calls eventually go over the networks of companies that cooperate with the NSA. Verizon and T-Mobile representatives declined to comment. The report said that AT&T (NYSE:T) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) have "long cooperated" with the government.
Germany's Deutsche Telekom owns 74 percent of T-Mobile and the United Kingdom's Vodafone owns 45 percent of Verizon Wireless.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson declined to discuss AT&T's role in the program at an event at the Brookings Institution in Washington earlier this week, other than to say that the company does, from time to time, receive subpoenas and court orders for information from the federal government, and that it complies with them. Sprint has declined to comment on the matter.
The NSA program on phone data, which has been running for seven years, collects so-called metadata, such as phone numbers and the length and location of every call. The program was disclosed last week and confirmed by the government, but President Obama has said the NSA is not looking at the contents of phone calls. The collection of the data, which has been authorized by Congress, requires that a warrant be granted first by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which in most cases agrees to supply the warrant.
The Journal report said that because government requests for the phone data are classified "top secret" and "noforn," meaning "no foreign," foreign entities that own the companies could not be privy to the requests. Additionally, unlike Sprint and AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless don't perform classified work for the government. However, because calls from the carriers are routed over the network backbones of Verizon Communications subsidiary Business Network Services and AT&T, the metadata from those calls can be collected.
Separately, Bloomberg reported "thousands" of technology, finance and manufacturing companies work with U.S. intelligence and national security agencies, much more than was disclosed last week by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked classified documents about the phone program and another program called Prism, which collects Internet data on foreign terrorism suspects and, sometimes incidentally, U.S. citizens.
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