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Iran Press TV

NSA pays US firms millions for data access

Iran Press TV

Fri Aug 30, 2013 8:53AM GMT

The US National Security Agency pays US providers of global communications hundreds of millions of dollars a year for secret access to their communications networks.

Documents obtained by the Washington Post from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden have shown that under a program, the Corporate Partner Access Project, the NSA taps into “high volume circuit and packet-switched networks” by paying hundreds of millions of dollars to US telecommunications providers.

At its peak, the program cost the US spy agency $394 million in 2011 and it was expected to cost $278 million in the current fiscal year.

“It turns surveillance into a revenue stream, and that’s not the way it’s supposed to work,” the Post quoted Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, as saying.

“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,” Rotenberg added.

US telecommunications companies are required to comply with lawful surveillance orders, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court) orders and national security letters. However, civil liberties activists say the payments could create a profit motive.

According to the Washington Post cooperation between the NSA and “backbone” providers of global communications dates to the 1970s under the cover name BLARNEY.

Another notorious US spying program, codenamed PRISM which was disclosed in June, showed that US technology companies hand over user data pertaining to all people across the globe after they receive orders from the FISA court.

However, the new documents disclosing the financial relationships between the NSA and US telecommunications companies shed light on a secret surveillance economy in which US officials set financial terms for peering into the lives of almost anyone who uses a phone, computer, or other device connected to the Internet.

The new details of the NSA’s corporate-partner project were part of a multi-volume intelligence budget obtained by the Post which showed Washington has built an “intelligence-gathering colossus” with a whopping “black budget” of $52.6 billion for the current fiscal year.

According to the newly-disclosed documents, the “black budget” is larger than the sum received by the Department of the Interior, the Department of Commerce and NASA this year combined.

Last week, the Guardian revealed the first evidence of a financial relationship between the NSA and US technology companies after it reported, based on documents obtained from Snowden, that the US spy agency has paid US Internet companies millions of dollars so that they would continue their cooperation with the NSA in running its PRISM surveillance program.

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