NSA Reimburses Tech Companies for Compliance with Surveillance Programs

by Michael Yoakum
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – A Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court decision declassified by the Obama Administration last Wednesday revealed that some of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programs were deemed unconstitutional.  In accordance with that decision, the NSA made monetary restitution to upstream service providers like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft.

The NSA has repeatedly made headlines for requesting tech companies to hand over phone meta-data and internet traffic reports of US citizens. (Photo courtesy of The Washington Post)

The FISA Court decision, made in October 2011, pointed to the NSA’s inability to separate domestic communications from overseas traffic as evidence of Fourth Amendment violations.  Information provided to the Guardian by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden shows the Agency’s struggle to bring operations into compliance with the FISA Court ruling.  The ruling is unrelated to PRISM; however, it provides evidence of a financial relationship between the NSA and tech companies.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee,  said Friday that the NSA inspector general’s office gave the committee a report stating that there was evidence of “roughly one case per year” over the last decade that the NSA willfully violated surveillance rules to inappropriately gather information.

The NSA ordinarily has the FISA Court issue annual certifications as the legal support for conducting surveillance operations, but since the October 2011 ruling, the Court has repeatedly issued shorter, temporary certifications. Compliance with these temporary certifications, which must be frequently extended, costs tech companies millions of dollars.

Federal law allows tech companies to seek reimbursement for compliance with law enforcement requests, including requests for US phone meta-data and internet traffic. The Guardian reported that so far only Yahoo has admitted to requesting reimbursement for information turned over to the NSA.

News of the reimbursement program has civil liberties activists worried about the implications of tech companies being paid to hand over customers’ information.

The Washington Post reports Michelle Richards, a legislative counselor for the American Civil Liberties Union, as stating, ““The line you have to watch for . . . is the difference between reimbursement for complying with a lawful order and actually a profit-making enterprise.”

For more information, please see:

Fox News – Report: NSA pays tech companies for data – 24 August 2013

The New York Times – N.S.A. Said to Have Paid E-Mail Providers Millions to Cover Costs From Court Ruling – 23 August 2013

The Washington Post – The NSA paid Silicon Valley millions to spy on taxpayers – 23 August 2013

USA Today – NSA reimbursed tech firms millions for data – 23 August 2013

The Guardian – NSA paid millions to cover Prism compliance costs for tech companies – 22 August 2013

Author: Michael Yoakum

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