New Grant Round: the Corporate Side of Government Surveillance

Deadline: June 21, 2013.

It has been an important week for investigative journalism. Last week, the Guardian broke the news that the U.S. government, through its National Security Agency, has been collecting data from users of a wide range of web services, including Google, Facebook, and Yahoo. This comes on the heels of revelations that the Obama administration has engaged in surveillance of the phone, email and bank records of journalists reporting on national security and foreign affairs.

The political implications of these revelations are enormous, but we at Public Business feel strongly that these are also business stories. In the vast majority of the surveillance cases, the data in question has come from private services. Consumers surrender data to firms in exchange for free or cheap services, and the U.S. government – whose access to individuals’ data is heavily regulated – can access it with relative ease through the use of subpoena power or other legal tools. Meanwhile, private firms engaged in consulting to governments on security matters can often access this data as well, extending its reach. Indeed, the Guardian and Washington Post stories on NSA surveillance relied on a whistleblower who came across the project as a contractor for consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.

These are stories about the intersection of business and society, about the impact of business practices that involve widespread data collection, and about business structures increasingly integrated into the state. Further reporting, if it is going to explain how and why these data transfers happened, requires reporters who have deep sources inside technology and contracting firms, as well as in government. It will also require workflows and newsroom financial structures designed to support interdisciplinary work.

That’s why we are announcing today a special grant round for reporters with insight into the corporate aspects of the surveillance story. We are looking for stories that explain how the data transfers occurred at major consumer technology companies and to what extent corporate management knew of or enabled them. If executives were not aware or involved, what management practices allowed the transfers to occur without their knowledge? We are also looking for stories that illuminate the relationship between private contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton and government defense or intelligence agencies. How common are access protocols like those faced by Edward Snowden, and how strictly is access to this data managed?

Grants for pursuing these stories will range from $1000 or $5000. Proposals should follow our standard guidelines, though, given the short time frame, we will accept proposals that lack a publishing venue and understand that having publishable source material will be a tall order at this stage in a complicated story.

Proposals should be submitted to by Friday, June 21, 2013 at 5pm Eastern time. Please contact with any questions.