Patriotism may not be the real reason why big companies like AT&T, Google, and Verizon have been so eagerly cooperating with the NSA’s eavesdropping on our private communications. The Associated Press and U.S. Senator Elect Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) discovered that the companies get paid when the NSA spies on one of their customers in a story that Storyleak is now highlighting from the back section of the news.
Verizon charges Uncle Sam a $775 “activation fee” to set up a wiretap and $500 a month to keep the tap up and running. AT&T (the former Bell South) charges a $325 activation fee and $10 a day to keep the tap up and running. Cricket and US Cellular each charge $250 per wiretap.
Wiretapping Is Big Business
Since Verizon reportedly gets a quarter of a million requests for wiretaps each month, it’s easy to see how this cash can add up. Verizon admitted that it is paying 70 people to process wiretap requests. A publicly traded company wouldn’t be doing that if its management didn’t think it could make money off the expenditure.
It looks like these companies profit when government wants to violate our rights. AT&T admitted that it made $24 million off of wiretap fees between 2007 and 2014. Verizon refuses to divulge how much it is making from the fees.
Big tech companies like Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo don’t make as much when the NSA reads chats and emails, but they might still be profiting. The AP reported that the American Civil Liberties Union believes they get around $25 for email records. Since the AP didn’t report on the nature of the email records or their numbers, it’s impossible to say how much the companies make from this.
The Real Amount of Money Is Unknown
The amount of money the companies might be making off of these efforts might be even greater. In 1994, Congress gave telecoms $500 million to reimburse networks in order to make them easier to wiretap. There might have been other more recent reimbursements that have not been reported.
It must also be noted that some of these companies, like Microsoft, depend heavily on government contracts. They might be afraid that they will lose some of those contracts if they don’t cooperate. Yet such organized privacy violation is clearly big business. Eavesdropping has become such a profit center that some tech companies are now automating their systems to make spying easier. Sprint reportedly set up a website that lets law enforcement track its wireless users for a $30 a month fee.
This is a major scandal; unfortunately, the article detailing it was buried in the business sections of Sunday papers. Hopefully Sen. Markey will launch a major investigation of these payments to see if big companies are profiting from surveillance and how much they are making from it. Revelation of such payments could quickly destroy whatever public support exists for such massive surveillance efforts. Today, Storyleak makes this information available and encourages you to spread the word.