In the latest twist on how the National Security Agency (News - Alert) (NSA) is using controversial methods for surveillance operations, it was recently revealed that the secret spy agency is paying hundreds of millions of dollars to U.S. telecom companies for access to their networks.
The program was expected to cost $278 million in the current fiscal year, compared to a high of $394 million in 2011, according to a report from The Washington Post.
There is no specific information on how much each company has been paid for its expenses to comply with government surveillance requests.
The news caused some to worry, but it is clear that telecom companies under federal law are supposed to receive reasonable reimbursement for their costs, one source told the newspaper. The costs may include expenses for buying and installing new equipment, and making what is described as “reasonable profit,” sources added in the story.
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It turns out that big telecom companies are not voluntarily providing access to networks. Secret courts and specific laws are forcing them to provide access to the data the NSA wants.
The NSA and other supporters of the surveillance methods also claim the use of the methods reduces the risk of terrorist incidents.
Yet privacy advocates are concerned.
“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, told The Washington 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.”
Paul Kouroupas, who worked for Global Crossing (News - Alert) for 12 years, said that some companies welcomed the revenue and signed voluntary agreements with the government, The Post said.
In addition, Albert Gidari Jr., a partner at the Perkins Coie law firm, who represents tech and telecom businesses, said the companies spend a lot of money on surveillance requests from the government and they require lawyers to sift “through requests” and process the ones “deemed reasonable,” The Post adds.
Big telecom companies, such as AT&T and Verizon (News - Alert), which are believed to be involved in the surveillance program, declined to comment on the latest report.
Edited by Alisen Downey