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The US’ National Security Agency (NSA) pays big tech companies hundreds of millions of dollars a year for access to their networks. That’s according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden to the Washington Post which reveal the full extent of US intelligence spending.
According to the documents, the US security apparatus operates on a US$52.6-billion budget, which the NSA receives around a fifth of. A fairly substantial portion of that budget, the Post reveals, goes to participants in a Corporate Partner Access Project for major US telecommunications providers.
The leaks also confirm that the agency taps into “high volume circuit and packet-switched networks,” which on its own was expected to cost US$278-million this year, down from a peak of US$394-million in 2011.
Although the companies are legally required to provide the NSA with the information they do, the payments most likely provide a profit incentive for actually taking part in the programme.
“It turns surveillance into a revenue stream, and that’s not the way it’s supposed to work,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based research and advocacy group, told the Post. “The fact that the government is paying money to telephone companies to turn over information that they are compelled to turn over is very troubling.”
While it’s been fairly common knowledge that companies accept these payments for a while now, it’s never been revealed how large the budget actually is. There’s also no record of the money set aside to pay for the agency’s PRISM programme, which caused the bulk of the controversy.
That said, several of the companies named in Snowden’s leaked PRISM documents including Apple, Facebook and Google, deny ever taking money from the government. Others meanwhile admit to taking payments in order to cover the costs they incur by having to provide the information.
As TechCrunch notes, there are no massive revelations in this set of leaks, but it is interesting to see exactly how much information an independent analyst like Snowden has access to.