Silicon Valley has been attempting to distance itself from the National Security Agency programs revealed by Edward Snowden since the first reports were published in June 2013. New revelations follow a familiar pattern: someone reveals another controversial program, the NSA defends its practices while implicated technology companies deny involvement, and then assure everyone that they’re committed to online privacy until the entire process repeats itself.
That process was called into question today when NSA general counsel Rajesh De told the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board that the PRISM program was carried out with the “full knowledge and assistance of any company from which information is obtained.” The claim, if true, would mean that the many protests from Microsoft, Google, Apple, Yahoo, and other technology companies were factually inaccurate, if not deliberately misleading.
In a blog post written after the PRISM reports were published, Google’s chief legal officer claimed that the company had never heard of the program, and that the NSA didn’t have direct access to its servers or data centers. Apple released a similar statement denying any knowledge of the PRISM program around the same time; Microsoft did the same. But these denials were always suspect: each company noted that it complied with legal requests for its customers’ information, and pushed for the ability to share those requests with consumers.
The legality of various NSA programs has been called into question over the last year, but the FISA Court in charge of data requests has supported the PRISM program from the beginning. The agency’s metadata collection is a problem; the fact that it did so legally is another issue. Issuing the non-denials like those listed above might have allowed these companies to drum up some positive attention in controversial times, but they were ultimately meaningless.
As for these companies’ claims that they had never heard of the PRISM program? De confirmed that they didn’t know the name of the program through which the NSA asked them to offer their customers’ personal information. “PRISM was an internal government term that as the result of leaks became the public term,” De told the Guardian. “Collection under this program was a compulsory legal process, that any recipient company would receive.”
[image via thinkstock]