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April 2nd, 2015

What’s the Cost of NSA Spying?

Back when Edward Snowden first began revealing details of the depth of NSA spying on foreign governments and companies, as well as U.S. citizens, I said that this would end up costing U.S. tech companies dearly. Now we’re beginning to see just how much: $47 billion according to Forrester Research. As large as that figure is, it could have been worse. Back in 2013, the folks at Forrester were estimating that the stateside tech industry would take a $180 billion hit.

By design, the research company’s numbers don’t reflect the amount of money spent by U.S. taxpayers funding the NSA’s operations. Nor do they indicate how much of this $47 billion is being born by the likes of Microsoft and Oracle, as far as I can tell. What I do know is that many foreign governments have been publicly investing in Linux and open source projects since Snowden’s revelations that back doors for the NSA have been built into many proprietary U.S. enterprise software products.

According to the report, American cloud providers stand to lose more than $500 million dollars in a three year period beginning in 2014 and ending in 2016. The research company says that a major part of the total loss is being felt by providers of security and encryption services. At present, over a quarter of foreign based businesses have either quit using U.S. service providers, or have greatly reduced their spending with U.S. companies.

This report comes just as we’re beginning to see how unnecessary all of this has been.

An AP article published Sunday by the Huffington Post reports that just before the first Snowden documents were made public, the NSA was considering dropping its program to collect and store telephone calling records of U.S. citizens. Why? Because some officials within the NSA thought it wasn’t bearing enough anti-terrorist information to justify it’s enormous cost.

“The internal critics pointed out that the already high costs of vacuuming up and storing the “to and from” information from nearly every domestic landline call were rising, the system was not capturing most cellphone calls, and program was not central to unraveling terrorist plots, the officials said. They worried about public outrage if the program ever was revealed.”

The AP’s information comes from unnamed “current and former intelligence officials” who say they doubt that then NSA director Keith Alexander would’ve approved any proposal to kill the program. Indeed, after Snowden revealed the program’s existence, Alexander vehemently defended it, calling it “essential.”

There’s a bit of good news here.

The law authorizing the NSA’s collection of telephone records is set to expire in June of this year. These until now unknown concerns by officials within the NSA might prove to be relevant when Congress goes about the business of deciding whether to renew or modify the law. With a little luck — well, much more than a little — maybe they’ll let the authorization expire completely and end this aspect of our government’s spying on its own people.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

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5 comments to What’s the Cost of NSA Spying?

  • Duncan

    Of course we know that with articles like this, FOSSForce itself, along with all its readers (and commentors for sure), are very likely on the NSA’s watch list. We know from some of the Snowden docs that certain other Linux sites (I’ve forgotten the specifics, now) and their readers were/are, as those sites were named in the docs!

    So hi, NSA!

    Meanwhile, apparently my subconscious connected two previously separate trains of thought last nite and I woke up with a question… only to open my email and see the FOSSForce teaser (I subscribe) announcing this article.

    Question: Hillary wiped her email server and provided nothing new in response to the congressional subpoena, right? But why should she have to, when the NSA should already have it all? If they /really/ care about those emails, why haven’t they subpoenaed the NSA for them? Given that they haven’t, I guess they don’t /really/ care after all. They’re simply wanting to make a few political points…

    (Regular followers of the Dilbert cartoon will note a similarity to a story arc there some months ago. The company supposedly lost some important information and they had to retrieve it from the NSA, after which the NSA investigated Dilbert, etc. Fictional of course, but Dilbert has the following it does because of how close it comes to reality from time to time.)

    (FWIW, I had Dilbert configured as one of the cartoons in the comicstrip plasmoid I have setup on my kde4 desktop, altho the Dilbert fetcher seems to have broken a couple weeks ago, as many of them have over the years, and now is blank. I’ll have to try to update or delete it one of these days. But I was a daily Dilbert follower for some years, and would be still if it hadn’t broken, as a result of that.)

  • Mike

    The cost goes far beyond the financial aspect. Lost trust and goodwill is likely irreplaceable.

    …It’s also hard to feel sorry for large coporations, many of whom were (or still are) complicit.

  • Colonel Panik

    I live 35 miles from the MX border, passport is waxed and
    ready to go. Just need a little push from DC and we are
    out of here.

    Some of my longstanding friends in Cyberspace are now gone.
    Good people who are activist for freedom, they see the folks
    like Arron S. and the bloggers who are in jail and……

    The NSA keeps spending more and more $$$ to keep up. When
    will someone in power say ENOUGH?

    Ladies and Gentleman, start you revolution.

    This is cool, we can get the Grandparents to be safe.
    https://protonmail.ch/

    Stand up for your rights!

  • Jim

    I would suspect that news story was released so the NSA could say, “See, you can trust us! If it hadn’t been for that bad me we would have just ended the program!” Apparently the only people who believe the NSA are some politicians and reporters. They’ve poisoned the well for what little trust there was left in government.

  • Jim

    Correction: “bad me” should read “bad man”