Google chief executive officer (CEO) Larry Page and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg have denied reports they are providing the United States’ National Security Ageny (NSA) and FBI with unfiltered access to personal data.
Both the technology giants said their organisations were unaware of the existence of such a programme, named PRISM, until it hit national and international headlines.
In a post on Facebook on Friday, Zuckerberg said: “Facebook is not and has never been part of any programme to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers.
“We have never received a blanket request or court order from any government agency asking for information or metadata in bulk, like the one Verizon reportedly received. And if we did, we would fight it aggressively. We hadn’t even heard of PRISM before Friday.”
Similarly, Page and chief legal officer David Drummond in a post on the search giant’s official blog said: “First, we have not joined any program that would give the US government or any other government direct access to our servers.
“Indeed, the US government does not have direct access or a ‘back door’ to the information stored in our data centres. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until Friday.”
First reports of the alleged secret government activities were revealed by investigations by the Washington Post and the Guardian at the beginning of last week, with the giant US network operator Verizon believed to be handing over millions of log records to the government.
On government requests for data, Zuckerberg added: “When governments ask Facebook for data, we review each request carefully to make sure they always follow the correct processes and all applicable laws, and then only provide the information if it is required by law.”
In the same breath, Page and Drummond in their blog post said Google provides data to governments only as per the law.
“Second, we provide user data to governments only in accordance with the law. Our legal team reviews each and every request, and frequently pushes back when requests are overly broad or don’t follow the correct process. Press reports that suggest that Google is providing open-ended access to our users’ data are false, period,” the post said.
It added: “Finally, this episode confirms what we have long believed – there needs to be a more transparent approach. Google has worked hard, within the confines of the current laws, to be open about the data requests we receive.”
The denials come a day after President Barack Obama delivered a passionate defense of national security programs that secretly acquire information about Americans’ phone calls, saying criticism of them is all “hype”.
He said: “My assessment and my team’s assessment was that the programs help us prevent terrorist attacks and that the modest encroachments on privacy that are involved in getting phone numbers or duration of calls without a name attached… It was worth us doing.”
The first programme involves the collection of Verizon data, while PRISM allows the government to scour the internet of foreign nationals overseas who use any of nine US-based internet providers such as Microsoft and Google.“I think it’s important to understand that you can’t have 100 percent security and then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” Obama said. “We’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”
Obama said the PRISM program does not involve monitoring the email content of US citizens or anyone living in the US, and he repeatedly stated that both programs – the phone spying and PRISM – have been approved by Congress.