How the Government Buys Corporate Cooperation

Some people wonder why private companies cooperate with the state’s surveillance apparatus. Doesn’t such cooperation hurt a company’s bottom line? Haven’t technology companies traditionally been protecting of customer data? Well it’s pretty hard to hurt a company’s bottom line when they’re being paid by the state to snitch on customers:

The documents consist of what appear to be invoices and emails between Microsoft’s Global Criminal Compliance team and the FBI’s Digital Intercept Technology Unit (DITU), and purport to show exactly how much money Microsoft charges DITU, in terms of compliance costs, when DITU provides warrants and court orders for customers’ data.

In December 2012, for instance, Microsoft emailed DITU a PDF invoice for $145,100, broken down to $100 per request for information, the documents appear to show. In August 2013, Microsoft allegedly emailed a similar invoice, this time for $352,200, at a rate of $200 per request. The latest invoice provided, from November 2013, is for $281,000.

That’s not bad money when you consider Microsoft doesn’t have to do any real work. But that still leaves the second question unanswered. Why would Microsoft, like most technology companies, put any effort into protecting customer data if they’re just going to sell it? The answer is in the question. The reason technology companies have traditionally been protective of their customer data is because they sell that data. If you don’t protect customer data then anybody can get it for free, which would be a damn shame to explain at the quarterly shareholder meeting.

The state has found a way to gain the cooperation of the private sector by appealing to its financial interest. As this is the case one cannot assume that any data they put on third-party servers is safe from the prying eyes of the state.