Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Google, Apple and Facebook Outright Deny They’re Helping the NSA Mine Data

A seemingly incompatible perspective on the reports from the Washington Post and the Guardian today that the U.S. National Security Agency has for six years been operating a project called PRISM — for which Internet companies provide massive amounts of online user data crucial to intelligence operations — is that of the Internet companies themselves. They say they’ve never heard of it.

prism_slideSaid Apple spokesman Steve Dowling in a statement today, “We have never heard of PRISM. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order.”

Google’s statement was less direct, but it also denied the existence of any sort of open government cooperation. “Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a ‘back door’ for the government to access private user data,” was the company’s statement.

Update: Facebook, too.

“We do not provide any government organization with direct access to Facebook servers. When Facebook is asked for data or information about specific individuals, we carefully scrutinize any such request for compliance with all applicable laws, and provide information only to the extent required by law.”

We’re still waiting on more responses from Microsoft, Yahoo, PalTalk, AOL and Skype, but the Guardian attested to receiving more of the same. Without specifying which companies replied, its report said, “all those who responded to a Guardian request for comment on Thursday denied any knowledge of any such program.”

The PRISM reports, accompanied as they are by revelations about Verizon providing user phone data to the NSA, have people justifiably freaked out.

“They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” said the “career intelligence officer” who gave documents describing PRISM to the Washington Post. And according to the documents, one in seven NSA intelligence reports rely on PRISM raw material, with that portion growing over time.

Certainly, Internet companies don’t want to be labeled creeps, but there’s got to be a fuller explanation here. Data is being monitored, or it is not. The Internet companies either know they’re providing data, or they don’t.


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