The National Security Agency of the U.S. (NSA) paid millions of dollars in compensation to the major Internet companies, including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Facebook, for the costs of participation in the surveillance program known as PRISM.
The information was revealed by new documents leaked by the former agency worker Edward Snowden. The revelations contradict both the NSA and the companies’ denials that they have participated in the massive surveillance program. It shows the involvement in so-called economic cooperation between the agency and companies, some of which have denied any involvement.
With this money, the NSA covered the expenses incurred by firms to legalize their relationship with the U.S. agency according to the October 2011 opinion issued by the U.S. Court Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA), in which it was branded as unconstitutional the NSA’s inability to distinguish between national communications traffic and information from abroad.
The court ruling did not relate to the surveillance program but caused major problems for the relationship between the agency and the companies to implement it, says The Guardian, which offers on its website some portions of the memo. “The problems of last year led to a cost of millions of dollars for providers that are covered by the Department of Special Resource Operations”, reads a part of the memo.
This section is devoted to control all surveillance programs, including PRISM, which depends on third parties (listed companies), and was described by Snowden as “the jewel in the crown of the NSA”. The reactions have been mixed among the companies.
On the one hand, Yahoo! has admitted the existence of a petition to the U.S. Government to disburse money under federal law “that requires the U.S. government to cover the costs of the legal process of changes imposed by the government itself.” “We have requested a payout according to the law,” said a spokesman.
On the other hand, a Facebook spokesman said the company “had never received compensation in response to a data request from the Government”. Google, meanwhile, refused to answer questions to the British newspaper.
Its statement was limited to denying the company’s participation in the program, adding that Google “is still waiting for the Government to answer the request for Google to publish details of national security”. Microsoft would not comment.