By NICK DIVITO
(CN) – The National Security Agency paid millions of dollars to Internet companies like Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and Facebook to cover costs of its PRISM surveillance program, according to secret documents obtained by The Guardian and published on its website.
The money was paid even after the agency’s activities were ruled unconstitutional by a secret court known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, according the documents provided to the newspaper by Edward Snowden.
The so-called FISC court was to sign annual “certifications” of approval, but such certifications were only renewed temporarily while the agency sought a solution to what was ruled to be the over-collection of information that FISC Judge John Bates ruled unconstitutional on Oct. 3, 2013.
The order and two others by Bates were declassified two days ago.
“Last year’s problems resulted in multiple extensions to the Certifications’ expiration dates which cost millions of dollars for PRISM providers to implement each successive extension — costs covered by Special Source Operations,” said a December 2012 memo posted by the English newspaper.
Special Source Operations oversees the agency’s surveillance programs, including PRISM., to off-set costs associated with accessing Internet providers’ data, the paper reported.
The Internet companies have repeatedly denied any knowledge of the surveillance program.
An undated newsletter, also posted on Friday, says PRISM providers were given new “certifications” within days of the FISC ruling.
“All Prism providers, except Yahoo and Google, were successfully were successfully transitioned to the new certifications,” the memo reads. “We expect Yahoo and Google to complete transitioning by Friday 6 Oct.”
A Yahoo! Spokesman told The Guardian that it has requested reimbursement from the federal government for costs incurred to respond to requests. Google gave the paper only a “general statement” denying it had joined PRISM.
Microsoft told the paper that it only complies with court orders for information because it is ordered to, not because it is reimbursed on a case-by-case basis.
Bates’ October 2011 ruling showed that the NSA had collected up to 56,000 communications a year in three years. He accused the agency of misrepresenting the real scope of the program and collecting data that went beyond what was represented: domestic communications from foreign traffic.
The NSA has disclosed that it gathered 250 million Internet communications a year, and that 9 percent of those come from “upstream channels” of up to 25 million emails a year.
On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the federal government in Manhattan Federal Court over its alleged spying activities, is expected to provide the court an opening brief for preliminary injunction. The government, meanwhile, is expected to provide a motion to dismiss.