National Security Agency. (Photo credit PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Michael Winter, USA TODAY
USA TODAY - Taxpayers have given millions of dollars to major technology companies to help the National Security Agency keep tabs on Americans, The Guardian reported Friday.
The NSA reimbursed the companies for "compliance costs" associated with the PRISM surveillance program after the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled in October 2011 that some of the NSA's snooping was unconstitutional. The exact amount and the companies paid were not revealed.
The decision, declassified Wednesday, found that the NSA had violated the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment because it could not separate domestic communications from overseas traffic. Although the ruling did not specifically mention PRISM, documents leaked by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden exposed the problems it caused for the spy agency.
The Guardian writes that payments provide "the first evidence of a financial relationship between the tech companies and the NSA." The NSA has identified Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, AOL, Skype, YouTube and PalTalk as participants in "Special Source Operations," which includes PRISM.
PRISM collects and analyzes communications stored by Internet companies. It is overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.(Photo: National Security Agency)
Yahoo told the paper that federal law requires government reimbursement "for costs incurred to respond to compulsory legal process." Other tech companies denied receiving payments or did not respond to specific questions.
Facebook denied receiving payments from the government. "Facebook has never received any compensation in connection with responding to a government data request," a company statement said.
Microsoft said in a statement Friday that the company "complies with court orders because it is legally ordered to, not because it is reimbursed for the work. We could have a more informed discussion of these issues if providers could share additional information, including aggregate statistics on the number of any national security orders they may receive."
Documents leaked by Snowden show the NSA has breached privacy rules nearly 3,000 times a year since Congress granted it new powers in 2008, The Washington Post reported last week.