Counting the Cost

Spies for hire: Money over privacy?

The PRISM controversy in the US has not just highlighted online privacy issues but shown up a massive security industry.

Last Modified: 15 Jun 2013 14:35
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback

The latest US snooping controversy has highlighted more than just online privacy issues. It has shown up a massive and extensively-backed security industry. So what is your data worth to governments and the likes of Facebook and Google? And how safe is your privacy?

PRISM is a top-secret electronic surveillance programme run by America's National Security Agency - at least it was top-secret until a former NSA worker blew the lid off it.

Nations spend billions spying on their own citizens and people overseas - whether that is hacking, intercepting phone calls or just requests from governments to private companies.

In the US, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other non-military spy agencies will get $48bn next year. The UK is spending around $3.6bn on its spy agencies. And China's spending on "internal security" was $111bn last year.

Security services, and the private contractors they use, are trawling for data which would, in theory, make us safer. But the idea that the likes of Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple gave backdoor access to the NSA to snoop on users' data, has concerned many people.

They all deny it, but still, it begs the question of what your data is really worth - given that most people simply hand over their photos, personal information, and documents to such websites without giving it a second thought.

The data industry in the US alone is worth $300bn a year and it employs some three million people. That is coupled with the online sales industry, which generates $10tn per year.

All of this is managed by the more than 2,000 so-called 'data broker companies'. Acxiom Corp is the biggest - with a profit of $77mn in 2011, coming from the largest commercial consumer database with 500 million active users worldwide.

We are joined by Alex Fowler, Mozilla's chief privacy officer, to talk about online privacy, the latest US snooping controversy, and data companies tracking our every move online

Also this week on Counting the Cost : Iran's presidential election has come and gone, but what about the challenges?

Unemployment, soaring inflation, falling oil output - the new president has got some tough work ahead. Soraya Lennie reports from Tehran about the human stories to Iran's economic woes.

And, fracking in the US - it means a cut in oil imports, but what are the consequences for America's relationship with OPEC, and the other oil producing nations?

Maria van der Hoeven, the executive director at the International Energy Agency, is joining Counting the Cost to look at geopolitics and the oil issue. Shale oil, shale production, is it a revolution? Has it got the potential to change the whole oil playing field?

Watch each week at the following times GMT: Friday: 2230; Saturday: 0930; Sunday: 0330; Monday: 1630. Click here for more Counting the Cost.

Follow Kamahl Santamaria @KamahlAJE and business editor Abid Ali@abidoliverali


Al Jazeera
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
Your chance to be an investigative journalist in Al Jazeera’s new interactive game.
An innovative rehabilitation programme offers Danish fighters in Syria an escape route and help without prosecution.
Street tension between radical Muslims and Holland's hard right rises, as Islamic State anxiety grows.
Take an immersive look at the challenges facing the war-torn country as US troops begin their withdrawal.
Private citizens take initiative to help 'irregular' migrants, accusing governments of excessive focus on security.
Indonesia's cassava plantations are being killed by mealybugs, and thousands of wasps have been released to stop them.
Violence in Ain al-Arab has prompted many Kurdish Syrians to flee to Turkey, but others are returning to battle ISIL.
Unelected representatives quietly iron out logistics of massive TPP and TTIP deals among US, Europe, and Asia-Pacific.
Led by students concerned for their future with 'nothing to lose', it remains to be seen who will blink first.
join our mailing list