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NSA, the Cloud, and Profit

The NSA's Utah Data Center

The NSA’s Utah Data Center


[AP/Rick Bowmer]

This site is great. (Hat tip: Jim Fallows.)

I suggested months ago that the NSA should go into business as the ultimate cloud service.

Isn’t it great to know they’re backing up all our email? And phone conversations too? … Why don’t they offer to charge us a fee for access to old data? … I would pay for this. Wouldn’t you?

(I know, I’m not the only one to think of this. But I’ll accept credit as an independent suggester, having written about it before seeing the idea anywhere else.)

And now, as an offshoot of the NSA’s PRISM program, there’s PRSM, which provides the very service I had in mind. Some highlights:

  • Unlimited Storage: With the world’s largest data center, share endlessly.
  • 320 million strong: You’ll find every person you’ve ever known. Even grandma.
  • Instantly upload trillions of megabytes of data.
  • Really big computers: Our datacenter can store up to 5 zettabytes of information.

And then there’s the list of key partners: Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo!, Microsoft, AOL, and AT&T. I recommend exploring all the service’s features.

Meanwhile, back in the non-parodic world, Craig Timberg and Barton Gellman write in today’s Washington Post:

The National Security Agency is paying hundreds of millions of dollars a year to U.S. companies for clandestine access to their communications networks, filtering vast traffic flows for foreign targets in a process that also sweeps in large volumes of American telephone calls, e-mails and instant messages.

The bulk of the spending, detailed in a multi-volume intelligence budget obtained by The Washington Post, goes to participants in a Corporate Partner Access Project for major U.S. telecommunications providers. The documents open an important window into surveillance operations on U.S. territory that have been the subject of debate since they were revealed by The Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper in June.

New details of the corporate-partner project, which falls under the NSA’s Special Source Operations, confirm that the agency taps into “high volume circuit and packet-switched networks,” according to the spending blueprint for fiscal 2013. The program was expected to cost $278 million in the current fiscal year, down nearly one-third from its peak of $394 million in 2011.

Voluntary cooperation from the “backbone” providers of global communications dates to the 1970s under the cover name BLARNEY, according to documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. These relationships long predate the PRISM program disclosed in June, under which American technology companies hand over customer data after receiving orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

In briefing slides, the NSA described BLARNEY and three other corporate projects — OAKSTAR, FAIRVIEW and STORMBREW — under the heading of “passive” or “upstream” collection. They capture data as they move across fiber-optic cables and the gateways that direct global communications traffic.

The documents offer a rare view of a secret surveillance economy in which government officials set financial terms for programs capable of peering into the lives of almost anyone who uses a phone, computer or other device connected to the Internet.

Although the companies are required to comply with lawful surveillance orders, privacy advocates say the multimillion-dollar payments could create a profit motive to offer more than the required assistance.

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