updated 01:29 pm EDT, Thu October 31, 2013
Possible acquisition of Vodafone a politically difficult feat
AT&T's plan to acquire a carrier and operate in Europe may have to be put on hold for a long time, thanks to the National Security Agency (NSA). The revelations of national and international surveillance by the agency is now forcing European officials to scrutinize any attempt by AT&T or any other carrier to purchase a mobile phone network on the continent.
Sources of the Wall Street Journal believe that AT&T originally intended to make a bid for the Vodafone Group, a British company that operates not only a network in the UK, but also owns a large number of partner networks across the continent. Buying Vodafone would in theory give AT&T a considerable leg up in expanding to Europe, though these ambitions are now at risk.
The NSA's PRISM surveillance program pulled calling data from the US carriers and phone networks, recording when and where calls are placed from and to, as well as the ability to monitor text and voice chat as it happens. In recent weeks, it's been alleged that the US government has monitored world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone. The growing belief that the NSA is receiving data from further afield, as well as the level of domestic monitoring, is now forcing European law makers to take note of potential acquisitions, such as that of AT&T. The issue of a US carrier acquiring another in Europe opens up the possibility of the NSA monitoring even more communication.
The German federal commissioner for data protection Peter Schaar advised that AT&T would have to prove that it would have to abide by Germany's privacy laws before providing data to the NSA, if it were to acquire Vodafone in the country. "One would need to create transparency ahead of time so that everyone knows what the legal basis is. The public and the regulators have become much more attentive now that we know, and also in part suspect, how far the surveillance goes."
A European government official believes that AT&T's potential acquisition is possible, but would be politically complicated, stating "We'd need to have a concrete discussion to make sure that European data wouldn't be leaving Europe."
It is thought that AT&T may make a bid for Vodafone Group in the first half of 2014, though this could vary depending on changes in the political climate.