AT&T's attempts to move into Europe by acquiring local telecoms could be stymied by the recent leaks of NSA surveillance data, European officials tell The Wall Street Journal. Along with Sprint and Verizon, AT&T is implicated in the Obama administration's widespread data collection: the FISA Amendments Act allows the NSA to request all phone metadata records from the companies. A potential expansion, officials fear, could turn local carriers into data siphons for American intelligence agencies. That means they're likely to heavily scrutinize or outright block any potential deals. "We'd need to have a concrete discussion to make sure that European data wouldn't be leaving Europe," one official tells the Journal.
The stream of leaked documents have revealed tight collaboration between the NSA and other intelligence agencies, as well as routine wiretapping of government leaders' phones. Since it was revealed that the US had collected phone data from German chancellor Angela Merkel starting in 2002, tensions between the two countries have been particularly high, with both German parliament members and the generally pro-surveillance Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) calling for an investigation.
AT&T has reportedly been in talks with UK carrier Vodafone, which it tentatively hopes to acquire in order to expand its European presence. But Vodafone's huge presence in Europe, particularly in Germany, raises serious concerns. If AT&T were to take over Vodafone, German commissioner for data protection Peter Schaar says it would need to "create transparency ahead of time," laying out how it would treat communications under Germany's data protection laws. "The public and the regulators have become much more attentive now that we know, and also in part suspect, how far the surveillance goes."