Barely a handful of Washington legislators voiced aggressive concern about the National Security Agency’s mass trampling of Americans’ privacy rights, even after Edward Snowden‘s constant revelations of the government electronically stalking every American and many foreign countries’ elected leaders.
The Millionaire Congress and Millionaire President didn’t seem anxious to act as if they cared until the economic tide began to flow against multinational corporations, particularly those involved in computers and defense.
In December, the Australian newspaper Queensland Times reported that both IBM and Cisco had suffered monetarily from China’s fearing the corporations’ connections to the NSA, as well as the US preventing Chinese competition from entering the American market:
An analysis of financial filings from technology giants IBM and Cisco by [British paper] The Independent on Sunday reveals the two businesses have seen sales slump by more than $1.7bn (¬£1.03bn) year-on-year in the important Asia-Pacific region since Mr. Snowden revealed in June that US companies had been compromised by the NSA’s intelligence-gathering in the clandestine Prism programme.
“US companies have seen some of their business put at risk because of the NSA revelations,” said James Kelleher of equity research firm Argus Research.
China is high on the list of those countries now shunning US companies. Mr Kelleher said this may be payback for the US government saying it did not trust China-based Huawei to be independent from Chinese military and intelligence agencies. Despite operating in every other major country, Huawei, the world’s biggest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment and a privately owned Chinese company, has been prevented from winning major communications contracts in the US.
Snowden’s plethora of revelations have included the NSA’s spying on major heads of state, like Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel; Obama told Merkel he wasn’t aware she was being spied on. But the NSA spying on Brazil’s leftist President Dilma Rousseff cost U.S.-based Boeing a $4.5 billion contract to build 36 fighter jets for Brazil over the next 10 years. That contract, awarded last month, went instead to Saab.
Then there are the corporations making a mint off spying on us for the NSA, and paid with our tax money. In a July 2013 article, the website Storyleak reported:
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.
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.
Toward year’s end, the big tech companies started backing away from providing data to the NSA, and complaining about NSA hacking; but you can bet it was more because of customer complaints and effect on profits, not our rights to privacy.
As for the Millionaire President, when he said last week he’d protect us from the NSA, did you believe him? Even before his speech, Foreign Policy magazine predicted the president wouldn’t protect us, publishing an article headlined “Obama Is Not About to Reform the NSA, Insiders Say”:
Intelligence officials, as well as privacy advocates and lawmakers who have met with White House aides in recent days, now expect that the NSA will continue to collect and retain the phone records of all Americans.
And that seems to be what Obama has done, although he said he’d switch the mountains of info from the NSA to private hands. A New York Times article and editorial expressed concern with Obama’s speech and attitude. David Sanger, a Times reporter who has covered Obama since his entrance to the White House, including writing a book about the president, co-wrote an article following last week’s speech which, among other complaints, said:
Perhaps the most striking element of Mr. Obama’s speech on Friday was what it omitted: While he bolstered some protections for citizens who fear the N.S.A. is downloading their every dial, tweet and text message, he did nothing, at least yet, to loosen the agency’s grip on the world’s digital pipelines.
The Times Editorial Board followed with a long critical opinion of the speech, noting:
Mr. Obama did not address the bigger problem that the collection of all this data, no matter who ends up holding onto it, may not be making us any safer. That was the conclusion of the president’s REVIEW PANEL as well as a federal judge in Washington who ruled that the bulk-collection program was probably unconstitutional and an extensive report by the New America Foundation finding that the program “has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism and only the most marginal of impacts on preventing terrorist-related activity…”
…One of his biggest lapses was his refusal to acknowledge that his entire speech, and all of the important changes he now advocates, would never have happened without the disclosures by Mr. Snowden, who continues to live in exile and under the threat of decades in prison if he returns to this country.
Congress seems to have that same self-serving, myopic view. While their committee meetings have questioned NSA activities, and even called for some reform, there have been no loud calls for awarding, or at least reprieving, Snowden.
The Times editorial also called for the president to change and really protect the public:
The president was right to acknowledge that leaders can no longer say, “Trust us, we won’t abuse the data we collect.” But to earn back that trust, he should be forthright about what led Americans to be nervous about their own intelligence agencies, and he should build stronger protections to end those fears.
Build stronger protections? From the Millionaire Congress and Millionaire President-who still see corporations making a lot of money off this deal–don’t bet on it.