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Economic harm from NSA surveillance probed

| Monday, July 14, 2014, 8:18 p.m.
Senate Energy Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wants a nationwide standard on hydraulic fracturing that doesn't infringe on states' options.

WASHINGTON — Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden is investigating the economic harm he said is being caused by the National Security Agency's surveillance methods.

Wyden, a persistent critic of the NSA, is using his perch as the panel's chairman to broaden his attack on the agency's practices, he said on Monday.

“Nobody has looked at it from an economic standpoint, purely economics, dollars and cents,” said Wyden, an Oregon Democrat. “If a foreign enemy had inflicted the damage on the American economy — these cutting-edge, innovative companies — that the overreaching by the NSA surveillance brigade had done, people would be up in arms all over the United States.”

Companies including Yahoo and Microsoft have been waging a public relations battle for more than a year in response to revelations of NSA spying exposed by former government contractor Edward Snowden.

Technology companies may lose as much as $35 billion in the next three years from foreign customers choosing not to buy their products because of concerns they cooperate with spy programs, according to Daniel Castro. He's a senior analyst with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit group.

The German government has announced it was ending a contract with Verizon Communications Inc. because of NSA spying.

Wyden said his staff has been examining the issue, and he'll make judgments about what to do later.

“If these NSA surveillance practices are not making us any more secure but are threatening our liberty, and now the Finance Committee has documented how it's damaging our ability to grow economically, that too, I think, will be something of a wake-up call in this debate.”

Wyden renewed his intention to seek retroactive tax legislation to stop companies from moving their legal addresses to other countries.

Since Jan. 1, 2012, 12 U.S. companies have completed so-called inversions, and seven are pending, including Medtronic Inc.'s planned purchase of Dublin-based Covidien.

AbbVie is moving closer to buying Shire and moving the legal address to Ireland. Mylan is buying the generic drug business of Abbott Laboratories and forming a new company incorporated in the Netherlands.

Wyden has proposed legislation that would in effect prevent companies from gaining foreign addresses by buying smaller competitors. His proposal would be retroactive to May 8, and he said companies are aware that he's committed to that.

His preference is to make that change as part of a broader revamp of the tax code in the next 15 months. He also said a heightened pace of inversions may prompt Congress to act more quickly on a standalone measure.

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