The New York Times reported the CIA is paying AT&T millions of dollars a year for phone numbers of foreign terror suspects.
The report states the phone company receives more than $10 million a year under the voluntary contract. Unlike other recent National Security Agency surveillance programs revealed by contractor Edward Snowden, the new method does not require subpoenas or court orders.
The majority of the phone numbers AT&T provides covers people outside the United States. But the company hides any U.S. phone number when a call is between a foreign line and one inside the country.
This allows the CIA to avoid the prohibition on domestic spying and gets around the usual restriction on phone companies from handing over data without a subpoena.
The report indicates only phone metadata is collected — including the time, number and length of the call. In some cases, the FBI can issue an administrative subpoena for the U.S. data and share it with the CIA.
AT&T has access to a large database inside and out of the United States. Its network has access not just to its own subscribers.
Officials have said congressional Intelligence committees are aware of the program.
Neither the CIA nor AT&T confirmed the program. The CIA said all its programs are subject to oversight. AT&T said it does not comment on national security matters.
While similar to the collection of other programs, officials told the newspaper the CIA uses its own because of the narrower time requirements in which the agency operates.
The Times reported the program started sometime before 2010 and was halted for a time before restarting again.