Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile may not have been required to particpate in the NSA's phone surveillance program.
Citing people familiar with the matter, the Wall Street Journal today reported that the NSA may have exempted T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless from the program for their foreign ownership. T-Mobile is a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, and Verizon Wireless is a joint venture between Verizon and Vodafone.
And while the NSA may not be collecting the information directly from those companies, the Journal notes that U.S. intelligence likely still captures information and metadata from 99 percent of U.S. phone traffic, as nearly all call eventually travel over networks owened by U.S. companies that work with the NSA.
AT&T and Sprint Nextel are both believed to have cooperated with the NSA for some time.
The government's reluctance to snoop on companies with foreign ties raises questions about how security organizations will proceed as companies from outside the United States seek to invest in the wireless industry. Japanese carrier Softbank is currently in a heated bidding battle with Dish Network to acquire Sprint.
Today's revelations are part of an on-going story that broke last week as part of leaks provided to the Guardian by Edward Snowden, a CIA employee who is now in hiding in Hong Kong.
Snowden provided data that showd that NSA's program, which is named PRISM, is also reportedly pulling personal data from tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Microsoft and Skype, as well as gathering purchase information from credit card companies.
Spokespeople from the tech companies in question denied any knowledge of the PRISM program. But Powerpoint slides provided by Snowden and verified by The Guardian show that the program operated with the “assistance of communications providers in the US" since 2007.