Tech Companies Made It Easier for the Government to Collect User Data

On Friday, Google’s Larry Page and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg responded to the The Guardian and the Washington Post’s reports on PRISM with nearly identical statements saying they’d never heard of the program, which allows the NSA and the FBI to monitor people’s online activities. Both CEOs also denied giving the government “direct access” to their servers. That’s technically true, according to a New York Times report.

Though Google and Facebook do not give the government direct access to their data, they and other companies have been working on ways to make it easier to respond to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act information requests. “In at least two cases, at Google and Facebook, one of the plans discussed was to build separate, secure portals, like a digital version of the secure physical rooms that have long existed for classified information, in some instances on company servers,” the Times reports. “Through these online rooms, the government would request data, companies would deposit it and the government would retrieve it, people briefed on the discussions said.” A Times source says Facebook followed through with the plan; whether Google did is unclear. Government officials have also “negotiated” with Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL, Apple, and Paltalk, though the extent of their cooperation is also unclear. (Their comments on “direct access” were similar to Facebook and Google’s.) Twitter appears to be the only major tech company to “[decline] to make it easier for the government,” but what that means is — again — unclear. 

Much of how PRISM is being used at these companies is going to be very difficult to figure out, as the law mostly forbids employees with knowledge of FISA requests from discussing them. The Times reports that those workers can’t even talk about the details with their colleagues, and some have national security clearance. This would seem to explain why Page and Zuckerberg (and their lawyers) were able to claim they didn’t know PRISM existed.

Tech Companies Cooperated With Government