NSA said to have paid 'millions' to cover costs for tech giants in PRISM program

The tech giants implicated in the PRISM hubbub have repeatedly denied offering access, but new documents reveal the NSA footed the bill for compliance costs.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

It seems that everyday now the public is filled in with another nugget of information about the actions of the U.S. National Security Agency and its now infamous PRISM data-tapping program.

The latest detail, reported by The Guardian on Friday, is that the NSA paid "millions" of U.S. Dollars -- using taxpayer funds --  to foot the bill in covering compliance costs for the tech companies implicated to be data sources for PRISM.

In early June, The Guardian and the Washington Post both broke stories reporting that the federal agency was mining data from the following nine technology industry giants: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple, and video chat room community PalTalk. (Dropbox was said to have been the next company added to the list.)

Friday's revelation follows up news from earlier this week that the NSA's reach was actually much wider than originally speculated. The Wall Street Journal found that the NSA has a system that can reach roughly 75 percent of all U.S. Internet traffic in efforts to acquire foreign intelligence.

The Federal Government also declassified a secret court ruling on Wednesday, revealing that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) declared some surveillance (notably keeping extra tabs on U.S. citizens) conducted by the NSA to be illegal and unconstitutional.

The note about the NSA incurring the costs to cover "certification demands" for the aforementioned nine tech giants was also included the ruling released on Wednesday.

Based on The Guardian's report, it also looks like it was the Federal Government's responsibility to cover costs here given the NSA was the one demanding the data.

To recall, the companies listed as the data sources have issued public rebuttals denying any involvement in PRISM.

Yahoo took things a step further, petitioning the FISC in Washington, D.C., to declassify documents from a specific classified case in 2008 that the technology company asserted will clear its name.

The Department of Justice has promised to declassify the decision first by September 12. That will be followed by the briefs and materials cited by the federal court, scheduled to be declassified by September 27.

The Executive Branch has also promised for more transparency for government surveillance programs, calling for the establishment of a "Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies."

The task force is scheduled to provide an interim report in 60 days and a final report no later than December 15.

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