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Verizon, T-Mobile foreign stakes make data collection harder

The fact that T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless have foreign investors makes it more difficult for the NSA to collect data, according to the WSJ. But the agency can still get what it wants.

Verizon and T-Mobile USA have been a tad bit of a headache for the National Security Agency when it wants to collect data, according to a new report.

Because both Verizon and T-Mobile USA have owners that are based outside of the U.S., the U.S. government is not allowed to collect data directly from the carriers, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing people who claim to have knowledge of the collection.

But before you get too excited, be aware that this doesn't really mean much. According to the sources, while the NSA is not able to directly collect the data from those networks, because calls and information eventually travels over networks or equipment solely owned by U.S. companies, that's when it can be grabbed. In other words, more than 99 percent of call data can be collected in the U.S., despite that one drawback.

Verizon found itself at the center of a firestorm last week when it was revealed that mobile communications are collected by the U.S. government. However, that collection does not occur within Verizon Wireless proper. Instead, it's collected at Verizon Business Network Services, a U.S.-based -- and thus, fully accessible -- subsidiary of the telecom giant.

According to the Journal's sources, both Sprint and AT&T have facilities that make it easier for the NSA to collect data. Verizon and T-Mobile do not.

Still, the takeaway here is not the level of cooperation between the U.S. and carriers; it's that despite a few roadblocks along the way, collecting data isn't all that difficult.