Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a company event.(Photo: Noah Berger Bloomberg)
SAN FRANCISCO — Executives from Facebook and Google late Friday refuted reports that the companies have provided direct access to their servers for the National Security Agency and the FBI.
Reports surfaced Thursday of a security leak that technology’s biggest names were quietly cooperating with the previously undisclosed covert government surveillance program known as PRISM.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the social network has never been part of any program to give the U.S. government or any other government such access to its servers. “We hadn’t even heard of PRISM before yesterday,” he wrote in a post on Facebook.
Google CEO Larry Page and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond offered similar remarks in a blog post titled, “What the …?”
Ditto Apple in a prepared statement yesterday.
Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple were all reported to be giving up data to the National Security Agency and the FBI, according to reports from The Washington Postand The Guardian.
The Internet traffic tracked was said to be that of users outside the U.S.
The technology companies have all denied that they have given full access to their servers to the government.
Each of the statements issued by Google, Facebook and other companies linked to the program has been carefully worded in ways that doesn’t rule out the possibility that the NSA has been gathering online communications as part of its efforts to uncover terrorist plots and other threats to U.S. national security.
“I think a lot of people are spending a lot of time right now trying to parse those denials,” says Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group. “The top level point is simply: it’s pretty hard to know what those denials mean.”
That’s in part because corporate boards don’t actually have any legal responsibility to disclose that these requests for data are being received, says Jason Schloetzer, assistant professor of accounting at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “These requests come with a gag order that doesn’t allow anyone within the firm to tell anyone outside the firm or anyone else within the firm.”
Google and Twitter — the micro blogging service wasn’t named in reports on PRISM’s data collection — both take the high road in issuing so-called transparency reports that disclose the data requests they receive.
“The U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers,” Google said in its blog post Friday.
Tapping into consumer Internet companies by legal means is made possible under the Patriot Act and subsequent extensions. Similar to how technology companies can use data to target advertising, government agencies can use it as an aid in tracking terrorist movements.
“They are data companies. These algorithms to make predictions of your buying habits … similar algorithms could be used to find out if someone is a terrorist or to track their behavior. I don’t find this at all surprising. This is what we signed up for,” says Rohan Williamson, professor of finance at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
Companies don’t have a fiduciary responsibility to disclose this type of information to investors if it’s not relevant to the stock, points out University of Florida Professor Jay Ritter.
“From an investor’s point of view, the decision would be based on whether the action had a material effect on the stock price, including an effect on a loss of customers.”
Retrieved from USA Today