The National Security Agency gave millions of dollars to Internet companies in order cover the costs associated with meeting new certification demands, according to new documents obtained by the Guardian.
According to the Guardian report published on Friday, this is the first evidence that shows a financial relationship between tech companies, including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook, and the NSA.
A ruling from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court in October 2011, which was declassified on Wednesday, found that the NSA’s inability to separate domestic communications from foreign traffic was unconstitutional.
The Guardian says that in the wake of the judgement, which didn’t concern PRISM directly, the certifications the Fisa court were required to sign on an annual basis, which ensure legal surveillance operations, were only renewed temporarily.
One of the top secret documents, an NSA newsletter entry in December 2012, said that the problems “resulted in multiple extensions to the certifications’ expiration dates which cost millions of dollars for PRISM providers to implement each successive extension – costs covered by Special Source Operations,” the organization that is responsible for programs like PRISM, and relies on partnerships with telecoms and ISPs to access communications data.
While Internet companies have come out strongly against allegations that they have cooperated with the NSA in any way, there have been reports that some, including Microsoft, have given the NSA direct access to communications data of their customers.
The documents support the worst-case scenario that many analysts feared: as more is revealed about how embedded the NSA is in US communications data, and the tech companies that store it, the domestic cloud industry could suffer tremendously. Recent estimates by Forrester indicate that US cloud providers could lose up to $180 billion in business over the next three years due to concerns around the scope of NSA PRISM.
Also this week, the Obama administration announced its plans to appoint a group of former White House officials and security experts to a panel to evaluate the NSA’s surveillance. Many have criticized its efforts, questioning how a group of insiders, as opposed to third-party experts, is effective at addressing the concerns of US Internet users.
“It is disappointing that despite previously stating he wanted more transparency when it comes to our intelligence gathering, the President has named a group of Washington insiders that are all former government officials to the panel tasked with reviewing NSA programs,” Internet Infrastructure Coalition co-founder and board chairman Christian Dawson said in a statement. “The Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2Coalition) has stressed the need for a multistakeholder approach to this conversation, and we hope that this panel will listen to the concerns of all parties.”